Astros focused on big picture after rough week

Astros focused on big picture after rough week

SAN FRANCISCO -- The road did not treat the Astros particularly well. Yet as they get ready to face the defending World Series champion Giants on Tuesday, they still find themselves in first place in the American League West, a half-game ahead of the Angels.

The Astros led the division by four games at this time last week, but were swept in three games by the Rangers and lost three of four to the A's, including Sunday's crushing 5-4 defeat. Four of their losses on the current 1-6 road trip have been by one run, and the other two were by two runs and three runs. The pitching has been solid, but Houston has hit .209 in its past seven games, including .176 with runners in scoring position.

"We've had a rough week," manager A.J. Hinch said.

Hinch has done a good job keeping his team on an even keel all season, and he insists no one is panicking, though the players did hold a meeting in the minutes following Saturday's loss to the A's.

"I don't think anyone's pressing or anything," closer Luke Gregerson said. "I think a lot of guys are just kind of little upset with themselves. I think guys don't feel like they're playing up to their caliber, almost. And I feel like just a little, just a little personal anger. Not even necessarily at teammates, just more so personally amongst guys. We know we got better than this and we know we can do better than this, and I think that they know they need to step up and we need to win some ballgames."

After starting the season 15-7 on the road, the Astros have gone 8-27 away from home. They played their best baseball of the season in April, highlighted by an 8-1 West Coast road trip. Houston's recent struggles on the road have been puzzling.

"Obviously, we want to figure it out," Hinch said. "We get to hit first, and a lot of times if we can get on the road and create positive momentum, we can quickly turn a road game into one that we have an advantage in. As the numbers mount and we get asked about it repeatedly, we have to deal with it, because the facts are the facts and the results-oriented part of our game will tell you that you haven't won enough games on the road."

The next seven weeks figure to bring more tough challenges for the Astros, who are in contention late in the season for the first time since 2008. Houston has several players with playoff experience, including Scott Feldman and Jed Lowrie, but this is unchartered waters for most of the team's core players. Every play, every game will become more important as August turns to September.

"The tension gets a little bit heightened as we get close toward the end of the season," Hinch said. "The way we play the game doesn't have to change. We can bring our style, our speed, our defense, our home runs -- they play in August and September, just like they did in the first four months of the [season]. I don't sense any sort of anxiety as much as I sense a lot of excitement that we've got to find ways to win games. We've put ourselves in a good position."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.