After scoring 24 runs while winning three of four games from the Phillies at home over the weekend, the Astros' offense was shut down by St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse, who threw seven scoreless innings to halt Houston's chances of reaching a three-game winning streak.
"He kept us off balance," Maxwell said. "He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he has pretty good command."
The Astros didn't manage to get a runner to third base until the seventh inning, when they couldn't capitalize on a pair of one-out singles. Houston went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-8 before Brett Wallace's RBI single in the eighth.
"Their pitcher did a great job against us today," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "His record and his ERA speak for itself. We did battle and had chances throughout the whole game, but we never got that big hit. Runners in scoring position, we went 1-for-11 today, and we have to do a better job in key situations."
Lohse (15-3) said he thought the Astros would be a bit more aggressive.
"I was kind of picking around early in the count," he said. "I was just locating the fastball and working everything else off of it."
The Astros held a team meeting prior to the game to discuss the importance of finishing the season strong, especially with a string of games against clubs battling for playoff spots. The Cardinals currently possess the National League's second Wild Card spot.
"That's pretty much what we're playing for, just learn how to win games and be the spoiler if need be," Maxwell said. "We know what's on in their mind over there, trying to get that second Wild Card spot. If we can do our job and win games, we'll definitely be spoilers."
Astros starter Fernando Abad (0-5) turned in the best start of his career, allowing six hits and three earned runs while striking out six in five innings. He had never lasted more than 4 1/3 innings in any of his previous four Major League starts.
"He was excellent," DeFrancesco said. "He was aggressive in the zone, good fastball, good breaking ball. That wasn't a problem."
The problem was the lost opportunities, especially in the eighth when three of the first four batters reached with singles and the Astros could score just one run. Maxwell struck out with runners at first and second, and Jed Lowrie hit a sinking liner to right that was snagged by Shane Robinson.
"They just beat the Phillies a couple times and were in all of those games," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said. "They aren't playing bad baseball. They have Major League players on their team. In baseball, anything can happen. We have our goals in front of us and it would be a big shame on us if we overlook anybody."
The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Yadier Molina doubled with one out and took third when the ball scooted past J.D. Martinez. Daniel Descalso shot a single to right field one out later to score Molina.
The bottom of the order hurt Abad in the fifth, with Pete Kozma hitting a triple and scoring when Lohse bounced a chopper over the head of third baseman Matt Dominguez, who was playing in, and wound up with an RBI double. Jon Jay followed with a double to score Lohse and make it 3-0.
"The lefty on lefty, I was kind of disappointed in that," DeFrancesco said of the Jay at-bat. "I thought he had a chance to get him out and he left a breaking ball up, and they got a hit to left-center."
Jay added an RBI single in the seventh to score a run that was charged to Fernando Rodriguez, pushing the lead to 4-0.
Even though the offense squandered some late chances, DeFrancesco was pleased to see his club battle to the end.
"We're here to win a baseball game, and they're doing the same thing over there," he said. "It's just two teams competing towards the end of the season. Their games mean a lot, but we're trying to knock them out and get as many wins as we can to finish strong."