The Cardinals earned a hard-fought 3-2 win on Friday, ending a five-game skid. But they have won consecutive games once since April 11, when they won their fourth straight -- the team's only winning streak of more than two games all year. They remain alone in last place behind the division-leading Brewers.
"It's very frustrating," said Aaron Miles, who was 0-for-3. "Today was a real tough one. We have to turn the page. Come in tomorrow with a chance to win the series. You can't look at anything other than that. We have a chance to win a series. Let's take it one at a time and win a series. Tomorrow is a big day for us mentally."
Rookie Matt Albers stifled the Cardinals offense for his first Major League win. Albers held the struggling St. Louis lineup to three hits over 7 1/3 innings, striking out two against one walk.
"He had good movement on his sinker, and he stuck with that, and threw his changeup and curveball effectively," said Scott Spiezio. "Did he throw well? Yeah, but at the same time, I don't think we swung the bats as well as we can. It was a frustrating day, I'll admit that."
Meanwhile, Cards starter Kip Wells fell to 1-6 with an inconsistent performance that was more Hyde than Jekyll. He looked brilliant in retiring nine straight after a first-inning run, then crumbled in a five-run Astros fifth. Wells walked three of the first five batters in the fifth, then permitted a three-run double to Carlos Lee that chased him from the game and removed any doubt about the outcome.
Wells shows overpowering stuff at times, and at other times he simply lets things get away from him.
"That's exactly what the issue is, isn't it?" said manager Tony La Russa. "Got to figure out what's different. If some things are different, then figure them out and fix them."
Wells has permitted at least five runs in each of his past four starts, issuing 12 walks against 10 strikeouts in that span. It was the third straight game in which he allowed seven or more runs. The Cardinals have lost his last five starts, as his ERA climbed from 1.39 to 6.59.
"When things aren't going well, it just seems to snowball," Wells said. "There's a couple of pitches that I could have used to get out of the jams I was in. I just didn't overcome that."
Wells and pitching coach Dave Duncan both pointed to one at-bat that may have swung the game for the right-hander. In a 2-0 game, Wells issued a leadoff walk to No. 8 hitter Brad Ausmus. After a sacrifice bunt, Wells walked Morgan Ensberg, allowed a single to Mark Loretta and walked Lance Berkman. The inning spiraled from there.
"He could have been out of that inning without any runs scored -- simple as that," Duncan said. "You can't walk the eighth-place hitter to lead off the inning -- that's like taking two outs away from you. You've got to get him out so the pitcher has to swing the bat. You get him out, now you have two outs and nobody on base, and you've got a real good chance to get out of that inning without any runs scored. It's a very critical mistake to make."
Yet Wells was also pitching with no room for error, as he had no run support. He has not pitched a single inning with a lead since April 19, when the Cardinals let a two-run advantage get away in San Francisco.
It was the seventh consecutive game in which St. Louis was held to three or fewer runs. The Cards are last in the league in runs scored, 15th in on-base percentage, 15th in slugging percentage and last in extra-base hits. They have scored in one of their last 32 offensive innings.
"Every one of us knows we have to play better as a team," Miles said. "That's the bottom line."
Albert Pujols' hitting streak, one bright spot for the Cards offense in recent weeks, came to an end after 12 games. Pujols went 0-for-4.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.