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Astros drop series finale vs. Brewers

Astros drop series finale

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HOUSTON -- If the division standings were based on the number of runners teams left on base, the Astros would probably be in first place in the National League Central.

Unfortunately for the Astros, the standings are based on wins and losses, and after they fell to the Brewers on Sunday at Minute Maid Park, 3-1, they dropped to last place in the division with a 10-14 record.

The Astros stranded 10 baserunners through the first five innings and 13 on the day. They had the bases loaded three times, in consecutive innings. And, except for Mike Lamb's solo homer in the eighth, they didn't score.

"It's certainly frustrating," said Lance Berkman, who stranded three. "We're not driving the ball with runners in scoring position when we get a chance. We've done a great job getting guys on base -- that hasn't been a problem. We've created a lot of situations."

Finishing the job, however, has been a sticking point. The Astros are averaging 7.33 stranded baserunners per game through their first 24 games this year. The club record is 7.73, set by the 1999 team, which won 97 games.

"If you want to look at a positive about this year as opposed to last, we've been loading them up and haven't been able to get that big hit -- [Saturday] [10-1 win] notwithstanding," Berkman said, "The good news, I guess, is if you keep putting yourself in those positions, eventually you're going to start scoring runs. You just hope it happens sooner than later."

Carlos Lee understands that, too, but that didn't make him feel any better about his performance Sunday. He stranded five baserunners, went 1-for-5 and grounded into a double play in the ninth when the Astros looked like they might have something cooking against Francisco Cordero, who struggled to throw strikes.

"Myself, personally, I hate it," Lee said. "Everytime I go out there and have an opportunity to do something ... if you at least have a good at-bat and hit the ball good or whatever, but when you don't have a quality at-bat, it's tough. I hate that."

The Astros end April in last place in the division, five games behind Milwaukee.

"We're certainly not playing great," manager Phil Garner said. "We're not playing terrible. The good news is our pitching has been pretty good, but that's unfortunate because when you get good pitching, I hate to waste it.

"I do believe our offense will come around. I think we've got the personnel to get it done. But obviously, we haven't gotten that going right now."

Woody Williams wasn't spectacular, but he turned in another quality outing, allowing three runs over six innings. Like his opponent, Brewers righty Claudio Vargas, Williams allowed multiple baserunners. The difference was the Brewers were able to capitalize, scoring two in the third on an RBI single by Tony Graffanino, followed by J.J. Hardy's run-scoring double.

Geoff Jenkins got the Brewers on the board with a solo homer in the second.

"Jenkins hit a first-pitch fastball, and then I left the ball up to Graffanino, and a curveball kind of tumbled and Hardy put a good swing on it," Williams said. "Other than that, I think I felt, coming out of it, like I did a pretty good job.

"It's just a shame that we keep losing -- that's the bottom line. It doesn't matter how I do. It's a matter of how the team does."

The Astros are not strangers to slow starts, although in 2004 and '06, they tumbled after posting strong Aprils. In '05, the team was bad from the beginning, going 15-30 before making a run beginning at the end of May.

"We're only four games under .500," Berkman said. "The year we went to the World Series, we were 15 games under in June. Certainly it's too early to do anything but come back out here Tuesday and try to get a victory."

"It's been a rough week," Lamb said. "I don't know what else I can say that hasn't been said already. We just need to do a better job. We need Carlos to get hot, we need Lance to get hot and the rest of the guys to do our jobs, and we'll be fine."

The first month of the season produced results opposite of what was expected when Spring Training ended. The offense was perceived to be the strength of the team, while the starting pitching was in question.

Twenty-four games into the season, Astros starters have recorded 16 quality starts, but they're 12th in the league in hitting.

"In Spring Training, the question mark was the starting pitching, for sure," Williams said. "Obviously, it's our job to be consistent. There are games where we're going to stink and we're going to score 15 runs. We have to find a way to make it all work together -- where we're pitching well, playing good defense and hitting well. Once we do that, we'll be fine."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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