The Houston Astros entered their weekend interleague series against the Miami Marlins with a healthy nine-game lead in the American League West, a bloated advantage courtesy of a pitching staff that was second in the AL in ERA (3.01), opponent OPS (.638) and opponent batting average (.221).

Offensively, the Astros aren’t exactly chopped liver. However, the inconsistency of their offensive performances has left plenty to be desired, with their 7-4 loss to visiting Miami on Friday the latest example of their shortcomings.

On a night when the Marlins did not generate one at-bat with a runner in scoring position, Houston finished 2-for-16 in those situations while stranding 11 runners.

Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jesus Aguilar combined to hit four homers and drive in six runs for Miami, but the Astros had ample opportunity to win a slugfest when their normally stellar pitching wasn’t up to par.

“I don’t know if they’re pressing, but everybody wants to be the guy to do the job,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “There’s a difference between pressing and trying too hard. If you’re trying too hard as a whole, you end up swinging at pitches you wouldn’t necessarily swing at.

“The main thing is we just have to relax and realize that the (opposing pitcher is) in trouble and not us, and that’s the mindset you have to have with runners on base.”

Left-hander Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.61 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Astros on Saturday.

Valdez recorded his eighth consecutive quality start in his previous outing against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts over six innings in Houston’s 7-4 victory. He is 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA during his streak of quality starts with just three home runs surrendered over 55 innings.

Valdez, who is 4-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 10 career interleague starts, will face Miami for the first time.

Left-hander Braxton Garrett (0-1, 10.80) will start for Miami on Saturday. It will mark the second start of the season and first of his career against Houston for Garrett, who allowed four runs on five hits with five strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings in his season debut, a 5-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

Garrett made eight appearances (seven starts) for the Marlins last season, going 1-2 with a 5.03 ERA. His lone win came against the San Diego Padres on July 24, when he allowed two runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts in seven innings.

The Marlins opened an 11-day, 10-game trip in fine fashion, claiming their fourth consecutive victory. With 12 of their next 18 games against teams with winning records, the Marlins are in a position to make a statement as a postseason contender.

“We’ve been able to get the hits when we need them,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve got the outs when we’ve needed them. We’ve put some runs up. I mean, that’s always good.”

–Field Level Media