HOUSTON -- Things are going so bad for the Cubs that even when they hustle and give great effort, they still lose.
J.D. Martinez hit a two-run triple that David DeJesus appeared to have caught, then dropped after a collision with Darwin Barney, as the Astros posted a 5-1 victory Wednesday night over the Cubs, who lost their ninth in a row.
With the win, the Astros completed the sweep, and the Cubs lost nine straight for the first time since May 8-18, 2002. Bench coach Jamie Quirk, subbing for manager Dale Sveum, who was in Arizona to attend his son Rustin's high school graduation, couldn't stop the skid.
"It's very tough," Quirk said of losing. "This game is so mental, day in and day out, and keeps coming at you. You wipe it away and show up the next day wanting to win."
Jeff Samardzija (4-3) recorded his sixth quality start in nine outings this season, giving up two runs on six hits over six innings, but took the loss.
"This is really going to show our team character here in the long run," Samardzija said. "The next team you play is not going to take it easy on you, and the team after that is not going to take it easy on you. You've got to fix it, and fix it quick."
Reed Johnson gave Samardzija a quick 1-0 lead with his second homer of the season with one out in the first off Wandy Rodriguez (4-4). The blast gave the Cubs their first lead in 59 innings.
It lasted until the Houston fourth. The Astros had runners at first and third with two out, when Martinez lofted a ball to right. Barney and DeJesus crashed into each other near the foul line trying to get to the ball, and tumbled. Martinez kept running and was credited with a triple, and both runners scored. DeJesus had the ball briefly in his glove, but it was knocked loose.
"It was a great effort," Quirk said of DeJesus and Barney. "If they make the play, it's an outstanding play. It's perfect placement on [the Astros'] part. He didn't hit it good, he hit it in the right spot, they both gave everything they have."
Said Martinez: "I saw the right fielder running and I was like, 'It's going to have a chance. He's going to have to make a nice play on it.' I just continued to run right out of the box and was just fortunate it fell."
DeJesus simply didn't have time to tell Barney he had it.
"It was one of those plays that was too much in the middle of us," Barney said. "It was placed at a point where he didn't have a chance to call it. It's unfortunate. My job is to go until I hear somebody call me off and that ball was put into a spot where he didn't know he'd have a chance until he got there.
"He probably didn't know he'd be able to get there," Barney said of DeJesus. "Unfortunately, that was a big turning point in the game for Jeff."
Barney had a bloody elbow and hip after the fall because of the rocky surface on the warning track.
"I thought he caught it," Barney said. "I went and when I was on the ground, I thought he had it in his glove and there it was. We both did our job and it just happened to turn out that way."
Barney wasn't just smarting from the collision. What also hurt was that the Cubs were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"What's going on is, we're not hitting with men on base," Barney said. "I can't point out anybody but myself right now. That's something that I need to pick up, and as a team we're hoping to do better at it."
The Cubs had two on and two out in the fifth, when Alfonso Soriano lofted a ball to right in almost the same spot as Martinez did in the fourth. Second baseman Jose Altuve and right fielder Travis Buck apparently learned from watching DeJesus and Barney, and avoided a collision with Buck catching the ball to end the inning.
Samardzija wanted to extend his outing, but Quirk decided that was enough after 90 pitches.
"I said, 'Hey, you have a career. This is your first year starting and we have to watch it, and you have a long career ahead of you. Save some pitches right now,'" Quirk explained.
The Astros scored three more runs with two out in the eighth off rookie Rafael Dolis, who had appeared once since May 15.
It's been a struggle.
"If we had an answer, and a solution, we'd definitely bring it out," Quirk said. "Right now, it's keep grinding and keep working. ... Winning is contagious and losing is contagious and right now, we're seeing the bad end of it."
The Cubs now have scored two runs off a starting pitcher in the last five games, a total of 32 1/3 innings.
"The best thing to do is we have each other's back," Cubs pitcher Paul Maholm said. "You pull for each other and you expect to win each night you come in here. There's not one person in here blaming the offense or the starting pitcher for not getting it done. We have to do it as a group. That's how you do it and there's no way around it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.