Oakland is 1-4 against Houston this season. The A's will look to win Wednesday's finale, before jetsetting to the East Coast for series with the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays as part of a strenuous schedule this month.
Astros starter Gerrit Cole will be on the mound Wednesday, presenting yet another difficult assignment for an A's offense that's averaging just 3.35 runs over their last 17 games. Oakland has scored two or fewer runs in four of its past five games, and it has tallied six or fewer hits five times in its last nine games.
"We're not swinging the bats like we were early," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Now, it's going to happen like that during the course of a season. It goes back and forth."
A's starters have had little margin for error. On Tuesday, Sean Manaea allowed four runs on seven hits, including a solo homer to Alex Bregman in the second, in 5 2/3 innings.
The left-handed Manaea, who struck out three and didn't walk a batter, has yielded four runs in each of his last two starts after holding opponents to a combined five runs over his first six outings.
Astros outfielder George Springer, who went 6-for-6 in Monday's opener, stayed hot, drilling a go-ahead, two-run double in the fifth. That hit came after Manaea hit Brian McCann with a pitch with two outs, which was followed by a Jake Marisnick double.
"I thought he threw the ball pretty well," Melvin said. "It really came down to the McCann at-bat. Up to that point, he's keeping us in the game. Their guy is pitching pretty good, our guy is pitching pretty good. It's a pretty good hitting lineup, No. 1. Again, if he doesn't hit McCann, it's probably a different story that inning, and they just added one more after that."
Said Manaea: "That was definitely the turning point. I didn't do a good job after that. I wasn't mentally locking in. I wasn't doing the things I should be doing. That was a big turning point."
The A's were gifted a run in the first on a wild pitch from right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., and their only other run came in the third when Springer tracked down a long fly ball off the bat of Khris Davis for a sacrifice fly, preventing multiple runs from scoring.
"We haven't been doing so hot right now, but we're facing some good pitching here with Houston, so we just have to grind it out, and if it's a low-scoring game, keep the mistakes down," A's shortstop Marcus Semien said. "There's nothing wrong with winning low-scoring games, we just have to do what it takes to win."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED A's rally thwarted: The A's trailed, 3-2, entering the bottom of the fifth, when catcher Bruce Maxwell notched a leadoff double, putting them in position to potentially tie the game. But Maxwell was quickly wiped from the basepaths. Semien sent a ground-ball single through the left side, and left fielder Marwin Gonzalez easily threw out a running Maxwell, who got a late jump, at third base.
"He has to see it go through or he gets thrown out at third, and once it gets to the outfield, your instincts are always going to tell you to go to third," Melvin said. "Gonzalez made a nice play on the run, made a play that an infielder usually makes. Got him at third."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS Stepping to the plate for his first at-bat since the death of his mother, Gretchen, A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty received hearty applause from not only the home crowd and his teammates, but members of the Astros during the second inning. Piscotty, who tapped his heart in appreciation, promptly singled in an emotional scene at the Coliseum. More >
HE SAID IT "It was really, really incredible to watch. I got chills his first AB when the crowd gave him an ovation. It was just a real cool moment." -- Manaea, on Piscotty's return
UP NEXT The A's will send right-hander Daniel Mengden to the bump for Wednesday's series finale at 12:35 p.m. PT against righty Cole and the Astros. Mengden is 0-3 with a 7.23 ERA in five career starts against Houston, including an April 28 loss on the road, when he allowed five runs (four earned) in 2 1/3 innings.
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.