Astros unable to back Wandy in loss to Cubs

Astros unable to back Wandy in loss to Cubs

Astros unable to back Wandy in loss to Cubs
CHICAGO -- The starting pitching the Astros have been receiving in the last two weeks of the season has been more than good enough to allow them to emerge from a June offensive swoon that on Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field drifted into July.

Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was left without any margin for error and certainly pitched well enough to deserve a better fate. He gave up three runs in seven innings -- with all three scoring in a three-pitch span in the sixth -- but the offense was blanked for the second time in three days.

The last-place Cubs polished off a three-game sweep of the Astros by getting 7 2/3 scoreless innings from starting pitcher Travis Wood, who also sparked the three-run outburst in the sixth with a leadoff double to send Houston to its fourth consecutive loss, 3-0.

"Wandy pitched well enough to win," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "The sixth inning, obviously, that was everything, with the leadoff double by the pitcher. He's swung the bat well all year."

The Astros dropped to 9-28 on the road. They've lost six games in a row on the road in getting swept by the Cubs and Rangers (June 15-17) and have lost eight of their last nine away from home.

Including Rodriguez's quality outing on Sunday, Astros starting pitchers have posted a 2.56 ERA in the club's last 14 games, but the team has gone just 5-9 in those games. That's because the offense has hit just .219 in that stretch, including .169 (30-for-178) in the past six games.

"Right now, I think we got away from our plan a little bit," left fielder J.D. Martinez said. "I feel like we're going up there and swinging at a lot of pitchers' pitches. We're not making the pitchers come to us. I feel like when we're good, we're patient, and we're up there waiting for the pitcher to make a mistake, and if he doesn't, we're not going to swing at it."

The Astros managed only four hits on Sunday, but they didn't draw any walks and never had more than one runner on base in any inning. They are 11-12 against left-handed starters this year, but are hitting just .213 against lefties as a team.

"It's frustrating," Mills said. "When we do get some opportunities, we might be able to cash those in. Today, we really didn't get any opportunities. It's a little bit of both. We get a lot of hits, we get 10 hits [Saturday], but we struggled getting those hits. It seemed like we needed a lot of two-out hits."

Wood (3-3) retired the first 12 batters he faced, giving up a leadoff double to Martinez in the fifth inning before retiring five more Astros in a row and 10 of the next 11. Rodriguez (6-6) was able to match him through four innings, allowing just a pair of singles as the game zipped along.

Wood led off the sixth with a double to left field and made one of the most heads-up plays on the basepaths you'll see by a pitcher when he advanced to third base on a ground ball to third, taking off when Matt Downs made a throw across the diamond.

Rodriguez intentionally walked Starlin Castro after falling behind in the count to set up a double play, but Anthony Rizzo shot the next pitch into right field for an RBI single. Rizzo hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth inning Saturday against J.A. Happ to spark the Cubs to a 3-2 win.

"From what I've seen so far, I'll take my chances with Rizzo at the plate and the hole [on the left side of the infield] open, too," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's been here five days and he has three game-winning hits. You don't keep that stat anymore, but he's put us ahead three times and we've stayed in the lead in three of the five games."

Two pitches after Rizzo gave the Cubs the lead, Jeff Baker doubled into the left-field corner to score a pair and stretch it to 3-0. Rodriguez lamented trying to sneak a first-pitch fastball by Wood, who swings a good bat.

"I made one mistake to the pitcher," he said.

It was the second consecutive game the Astros were undone by one bad inning, and they're not able to recover with the way the offense has been struggling.

"When a game is going like that and we're not able to score runs, sometimes we have to take a few more chances defensively to get them to stop scoring runs," Mills said. "I'm not saying that led to the three runs, but that didn't help, that's for sure.

"We had to play the infield in, and wanted to walk Castro there and maybe set up the double play if we could, and maybe get some hitters we're wanting to face, those types of things. When you're not scoring runs, you have to do those types of things to stay in the ballgame."

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve returned the lineup after missing six games with a strained right hamstring. On the day he was named to his first All-Star team, Altuve went 1-for-4 with a sixth-inning single.

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