The seventh inning of the Astros' 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon summed up the team's recent woes.
In what has become all but customary for the Astros over the past year, LHP Wandy Rodriguez was lights-out at Minute Maid Park. That is, until things unraveled in the top of the seventh.
With the Astros leading 3-0 and Rodriguez having retired 14-consecutive Cardinal hitters entering the frame, things were looking as if the Astros would take the final game, as well as the series, from St. Louis.
The Cardinals rallied for five unearned runs in the seventh, with help from two hit batters, a wild pitch, and two Astro errors.
At 32-32 following the home-series loss to St. Louis, the Astros appear to have just about met the expectations most had of them prior to the season. However, since splitting a series with Philadelphia at Minute Maid Park May 22-25, the Astros have lost nine of 12 games, and have lost all four series to the Cardinals (twice), the Brewers, and the lowly Pirates.
During this run, they have dropped from 1.5 games behind Central Division-leading Chicago all the way to eight games out.
While the Astros have clearly struggled to score during this run, it's clear that the more pressing need is pitching help. The Astros' staff has given up the most home runs in the Major Leagues, and injuries are not really a problem.
There has been speculation that the Astros may try and bring in recently-released Sidney Ponson (4-1, 3.88 ERA w/ TEX) to bolster the rotation. This is only the beginning of things that should happen.
The Astros have a serious dearth of talent in the minor-league levels, which were essentially gutted in the past two years while making various trades, most notably for Jason Jennings, Miguel Tejada, and Jose Valverde. Tejada and Valverde have been successful thus far with the Astros, but we all know what happened with Jason Jennings.
Good pitching is not easy to come by, and the Astros may not have what it takes to acquire enough help to make themselves truly competitive this season. A's SP Joe Blanton is a name that has been floated out there, but you have to think that Billy Beane will be able to get more value by dealing him elsewhere.
There isn't much the Astros can do to make themselves good enough right now to contend, but trading players with current market value like Tejada, Wigginton, and Roy Oswalt could benefit the Astros in the future.