Chicago starter Paul Maholm hit the second homer of his career in his last start, but probably would have traded it in for a victory.

Instead, the left-hander remains winless in his last eight outings and hopes to snap that skid this afternoon in the Cubs' opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros.

Maholm has gone 0-4 with a 6.43 earned run average since his last victory on May 9, when he threw seven scoreless innings to beat the Braves. He is coming off a loss in Arizona on Saturday, charged with seven runs -- six earned -- on nine hits and three walks.

"I made pitches when I had to early and just didn't there in the last couple of hitters that I faced," said Maholm, who had given his club a brief lead with a two-run homer in the fourth.

Maholm, who turned 30 on Monday, fell to 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA in 14 starts this season and will face the Astros for the first time in 2012. In his career against them, he is 11-6 with a 3.31 ERA in 20 starts.

Bud Norris will make his return today to Houston's rotation, which will be expanded to six pitchers until the All-Star break due to the solid performance by Dallas Keuchel in Norris' place.

Norris, meanwhile, will start tonight for the first time since June 12 due to a sprained left knee. The right-hander lost his final three starts before going on the disabled list, pitching to a 13.09 ERA while striking out 19 over just 11 innings.

The 27-year-old is 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 13 starts and hasn't won since May 21 at home versus the Cubs. He allowed five hits over seven scoreless frames, striking out eight while improving to 3-2 with a 1.89 ERA lifetime versus Chicago.

Keuchel, meanwhile, threw another solid outing on Thursday. Coming off a complete game in his previous outing, the 24-year-old limited the Padres to a run over six innings of four-hit ball. However, closer Brett Myers was slammed for six runs -- one earned -- in the ninth and Houston was denied a three-game sweep with a 7-3 loss.

"I sucked," Myers told Houston's website. "I gave up runs. That's not my job. I'm supposed to shut down the inning and I didn't do it."

Houston nearly pulled out the victory despite being limited to three hits, one a two-run homer by Brian Bogusevic.

The Astros, who lost for just the second time in six games, continued to play without All-Star candidate Jose Altuve, with the second baseman out with a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday. Altuve, who is hitting .309 on the season, isn't expected back until this Sunday at the earliest.

The Cubs took yesterday's off day to regroup from Wednesday's 17-1 pounding at the hands of the Mets. Chicago was also going for a three-game sweep, but instead saw starter Jeff Samardzija tagged for nine runs in 4 1/3 innings.

"I'd be lying if I said I weren't concerned with the numbers and execution of pitches," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Samardzija. "It hasn't been too good for four or five starts now."

The Mets also touched up Casey Coleman for seven runs in 1 2/3 innings in relief to hand the Cubs a fifth loss in seven games.

The Astros have won four straight over the Cubs, including a three-game sweep at home from May 21-23.