On Monday, the Astros made quite a strong case to be sellers.
Chad Billingsley (7-0) remained unbeaten for the Dodgers, tossing a complete game against the suddenly struggling Astros offense and holding them scoreless until the final out. That led the way to a 10-2 Los Angeles victory in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
"We haven't done much of anything in any phase of the game consistently that would lead anyone to believe we have a decent team," first baseman Lance Berkman said. "If you do what we did the last three years, it takes more than just skill. You have to have breaks, and you have to have the Cardinals fall flat last year and the Cubs fall on their face in 2004. It takes breaks, and we haven't gotten them all year.
"I know the talent that's in here, but we haven't played like it at all."
After the game, the mood became even more somber. General manager Tim Purpura announced that center fielder Hunter Pence is expected to miss four to six weeks with a right wrist capsular sprain with a small chip fracture. Pence suffered the injury sliding into second base on Sunday.
Astros starter Chris Sampson (7-7) struggled through his five innings. The Dodgers added two early runs on an RBI single from Jeff Kent in the second inning and a wild pitch from Sampson in the fourth. Then, the Dodgers broke things open in the fifth. Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre hit back-to-back one-out singles, while Kent singled with two outs to load the bases for Luis Gonzalez.
Gonzalez hit a sharp liner up the middle to score Furcal and Pierre, and that 4-0 cushion was more than enough with Billingsley on the mound. Kent added another run in the seventh against reliever Dave Borkowski on his double to deep right. His four-hit night was Kent's first since Sept. 18, 2006.
Sampson didn't give up the extra-base hits that have plagued him of late, but he scattered seven singles and Kent's double in his five innings, allowing four runs and being unable to go through the sixth inning for just the second time in his last 13 starts.
"Giving up four runs in five innings, I don't consider that pitching well," Sampson said. "When I made a mistake, they capitalized on it. I left the sinker up in the zone and I wasn't locating with the curveball as much as I'd like to. I tried to go inside and didn't go in enough.
"They're aggressive with runners in scoring position. When they get in that situation, it seems like they always get the job done. That was the difference. I just got beat."
Borkowski gave up three runs on five hits while working the sixth and seventh innings, while Brian Moehler surrendered three more on four hits while pitching the ninth.
Offensively, the Astros have scored just eight runs in their last four games.
"I'm disappointed," manager Phil Garner said. "I felt like after having three days where we were shut down, we were about to break loose with some runs. We had been playing better ball at home, and we had some momentum [here]. But we didn't muster any offense, and it's very disappointing."
Luke Scott was one of the only productive Astros offensively, going 2-for-4. He smacked a home run into the right-field seats with two outs in the ninth to prevent Billingsley from notching his first shutout.
Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.