There's an easy explanation for why the Houston Astros rate among the season's early disappointments, though Dallas Keuchel's ongoing struggles are harder to explain.
Keuchel attempts to halt a five-start winless streak Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox, who return home seeking to rebound from their first losing week of the season.
Houston (15-24) enters this three-game series last in the AL West, in large part due to a floundering rotation that's produced a 5.09 ERA. Keuchel (2-5, 5.58 ERA) has been one of the primary culprits, failing to consistently demonstrate the precision that carried him to the league's Cy Young Award a year ago.
After issuing 1.98 walks per nine innings during a breakthrough 20-win season in 2015, Keuchel has doubled that mark through his first eight starts of 2016. That lack of command has made him far more hittable, as evidenced by Thursday's poor outing in Boston.
Keuchel was tagged for eight runs and 10 hits in six innings of an 11-1 loss, dropping him to 0-4 with a 7.98 ERA over his past five starts. He's allowed five or more runs four times over that stretch, during which opponents are hitting .355.
"I think I try to be too perfect on a lot of pitches, and that's not the way you go about it," he told MLB's official website. "You work on the plate until you work off and expand, and sometimes I try to be too fine. That works against me a lot more than it helps me."
Houston's other arms didn't fare much better against the hard-hitting Red Sox, who recorded 14 hits in Sunday's 10-9 victory. Boston hit .342 and scored 33 runs in winning three of four in the series.
A visit to U.S. Cellular Field may not yield a turnaround for Keuchel, as he's lost both his previous starts there and owns a 7.04 ERA on the road. He did pitch well in a 4-2 loss there last June, allowing two runs in seven innings.
Keuchel will likely be working with a new catcher with the Astros expected to recall Evan Gattis from the minors. The slugger was sent to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he hit .375 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in 11 games, on May 6 to make the position switch.
The promotion comes at an opportune time, as Gattis is 3 for 6 against an also struggling Carlos Rodon (1-4, 4.99). The young left-hander fell to 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA over a five-start stretch after allowing six runs and 12 hits over 6 2/3 innings Tuesday at Texas.
Rodon, who threw six scoreless innings to outduel Keuchel on June 9, has been one of few weak links on a staff that tops the AL with a 3.17 ERA and has helped Chicago (24-14) lead the Central.
The pitching wasn't as strong, however, during a 2-4 road trip that ended with Sunday's 7-5 loss to the New York Yankees. The White Sox also committed two errors - one preceding Carlos Beltran's game-tying two-run homer in the sixth inning - after going a team-record 12 straight games without one.
''Not a great road trip for us, but we'll put it behind us,'' said outfielder Adam Eaton, who homered Sunday and is hitting .359 over his last 10 games. ''It's been a tough road, playing some good teams and lost some close ballgames.''
The Astros are 5-14 on the road and have yet to win a series as the visitor. They've lost seven of eight at Chicago, which won five of six overall meetings last season.