The Houston Astros' current slide began with another loss while Scott Kazmir was on the mound.
Losers in his last four starts, the Astros can end that skid by avoiding a sixth consecutive defeat Saturday night against the visiting Oakland Athletics.
Houston (77-71) began the week with a 1 1/2-game lead over Texas in the AL West before Kazmir (7-10, 2.63 ERA) allowed three runs in seven innings Monday while not factoring in the decision of a 5-3 loss to the Rangers. The Astros have lost every day this week and trail the Rangers by 2 1/2 in the division.
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They appeared in good shape to end their losing streak Friday, but blew a 3-0 advantage before falling 4-3. The last of Danny Valencia's two homers was a two-run, go-ahead shot in the eighth that helped Oakland (64-84) drop the Astros to 4-12 in September by beating them for the sixth time in seven contests.
''We've picked a rough time to have a stretch where it's been rocky,'' said manager A.J. Hinch, whose club holds the second wild-card spot. ''The good news is we do have more baseball to play.''
Kazmir ranks among the major league ERA leaders but is 1-5 with a 4.02 ERA while Houston has dropped seven of his last eight starts. He's received an average of 2.63 runs of support in his 10 starts since coming over from Oakland on July 23.
''You just want to go out there and give your team a chance to win,'' he said.
Kazmir gave up a solo homer to Billy Burns and a three-run shot to Mark Canha in six innings of a 4-0 loss Sept. 8 in his first start since the trade. He was opposed by Sonny Gray (13-7, 2.56), who yielded five hits in seven innings to improve to 2-1 with 1.71 ERA in three starts against the Astros in 2015.
"You've got to earn your keep against these guys and find ways to scratch runs across," Hinch told MLB's official website.
Gray, however, is 1-3 with a 4.89 ERA in six starts since that outing. He'll look to bounce back after allowing a season-high seven runs and eight hits over three-plus innings of Monday's 8-7, 14-inning loss to the Chicago White Sox.
"I'm not going to look too much into it," said Gray, who carried a 1.72 road ERA into that contest. "That was tough, but you just keep going."
Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are a combined 3 for 17 against the right-hander this season. Correa is batting .167 against the A's in 2015, and is hitless in 12 at-bats over the last three meetings.
The Astros won't have cleanup hitter Carlos Gomez, who will miss a seventh consecutive contest with intercostal discomfort.
"I haven't even thought about (swinging) yet," he said. "This is a new injury for me. It is getting better, and we're testing it every day."
Playing with four teams, Valencia is batting .415 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in 16 career games against Houston.
''There are certain teams that you gain some confidence against and swing the bat well against them and you feel good," manager Bob Melvin said.
Valencia is 1 for 5 against Kazmir.