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Astros' skid reaches four against Giants

Astros' skid reaches four against Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Houston Astros have never had a good track record against the Giants, so their sub-par performance this week in San Francisco should come as no surprise.

Their offense also has been nothing to write home about, either. Wednesday's 9-1 loss at AT&T Park was a continuation of what is turning into a third consecutive season of an offense that comes and goes -- but mostly, goes.

During their four-game losing streak, the Astros have been outscored, 31-4. They've received decent starting pitching, for the most part, but the bats are weak, if not non-existent.

After fielding similar questions night after night, it is clearly becoming increasingly more difficult for manager Phil Garner to come up with new and innovative ways to explain the sagging offense.

"We're close," Garner said with a faint grin. "We're close."

The team is undoubtedly frustrated, but its confidence appears to be intact. Players appear to be more bewildered than downtrodden.

"We're doing everything we can," Garner said. "You can sit over in the corner and frown and tear up water coolers and beat it up, but I don't think that works either. We're trying to keep an upbeat spirit about it.

"It does get frustrating. When you work hard, you think you take good approaches, you'd like to get some results. That does get frustrating. We're doing everything we can to keep a good approach about it."

The Astros received their only offense from Morgan Ensberg, starting for the first time since May 19. Ensberg launched a solo home off his former college teammate, Barry Zito, in the fourth frame. It was Ensberg's first home run since April 21.

"I know we're going through a very, very rough patch," he said. "We've gone through things like this before. There's not too much you can do. It's not due to lack of extra practice, extra swings and so forth. You just really need to continue to have the best approach you can and hope balls hit holes. Put more pressure on the pitcher, put guys in scoring position."

Minus Ensberg's homer, the Astros did not advance a runner past first base all night.

"We're not getting hits," Garner said. "We've had some games where we've swung the bats pretty good. We had some games where we have not swung the bats well. But we've not gotten the hits that I would have thought we would have gotten, especially after we put some pretty good passes on the ball."

The game was close through the first six frames. Matt Albers, in what will likely be his last start for the Astros before heading to Triple-A Round Rock, turned in an acceptable performance, but walks hurt him. He issued free passes to Randy Winn and Fred Lewis to begin the game, and after they advanced on Albers' wild pitch, both scored on a base hit by Bengie Molina.

Albers yielded another leadoff walk in the third, and that one proved to be costly, too. Lewis advanced to third on Ryan Klesko's single to right and scored on a Ray Durham sacrifice fly.

"Leadoff walks are going to hurt you," Albers said. "I had a problem keeping the ball down and away to lefties. I was just opening up just a hair, missing off the plate a little bit. I did a pretty good job of keeping the ball away from the middle of the plate. That's what I was trying to really work on today."

Knowing that this was likely his last Major League start for a while did not bother him through this outing. In fact, the 24-year-old rookie said it helped to motivate him.

Albers will likely be sent to Round Rock next week to make room for Jason Jennings, who's slated to return to the rotation May 29.

"It helped me relax a little bit, just have fun," Albers said. "It might be my last opportunity to get a start. Just go out there and have fun with it.

"Pitching in the big leagues is supposed to be fun. The last couple games, I put a little too much pressure on myself. Today, I just wanted to go out there, throw strikes, get ahead. Obviously, I walked guys, but overall I was pretty pleased."

The Giants put the game out of reach in the seventh and eighth, scoring five runs against a combined effort from Rick White and Brian Moehler. The fact that the game ended as a blowout, however, doesn't mask the most glaring problem the Astros have to fix -- the lack of offense.

Still, Garner remains optimistic, and, admittedly, a bit baffled.

"A couple balls were hit pretty decent, but we didn't get anything for it," he said. "During the game, I feel like it's getting ready to break loose at any minute. It's over, and I look up there and we had five hits, one in the ninth inning. It's inexplicable."

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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