OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Even as their once-promising season continues to unravel, the Oakland Athletics are trying to keep a positive outlook.
It's a task that's getting more difficult for manager Bob Melvin's club with each passing day.
Chris Carter hit his 36th homer and drove in three runs against his former team to help the Houston Astros beat the slumping A's 4-3 on Friday night.
The loss dropped Oakland six games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels in the AL West with 22 left. Owners of the best record in the majors on Aug. 9, the A's have gone 7-17 since.
''We understand what's at stake and where we're at and how things are going,'' losing pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. ''We're trying to find that happy zone of not trying to press too hard and have fun, but also understanding that we need to do things a little differently.''
The problem continues to be the A's lack of hitting.
Oakland's anemic offense managed seven hits but stranded eight runners and failed to score after loading the bases with none out in the fourth.
Houston starter Brett Oberholtzer got Craig Gentry to hit into a forceout before Josh Donaldson grounded into a 5-2-3 double play.
''You can't continue to put pressure on our pitching like this,'' Melvin said. ''If we can score some runs there, it's a completely different game. If we can add on, certainly the tone of the game is a lot different going forward.''
The A's still led 3-2 before Carter hit his two-run homer off Samardzija (4-5).
Carter added an RBI single, Jon Singleton also homered and Jose Altuve had two hits for Houston, unbeaten in three games since firing manager Bo Porter on Monday. It was the Astros' fifth straight win overall, two shy of their season high.
''Beating the A's and Angels, teams in our division, is fun,'' Carter said. ''I'm always excited to play here. This is where I played my first game.''
Oberholtzer (5-10) allowed three runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings to end his two-game losing streak. The left-hander struck out one and walked two.
Jose Veras retired two batters and Tony Sipp pitched two scoreless innings for his third save.
Carter has routinely beaten up on A's pitching since being dealt to the Astros as part of a multiplayer trade in 2013.
His home run was his seventh against Oakland this year and eighth overall. His 20 RBIs against the A's are his most against any club this season.
''We'd thrown some fastballs by him earlier in the game and I thought it was a good choice,'' Samardzija said. ''He just put good wood on it and hit it out.''
Samardzija took the loss, his fourth in five starts. He fanned nine and did not walk a batter for the eighth time this season.
The right-hander retired his first seven batters before giving up Singleton's solo home run in the third.
The A's came back with three runs in the bottom half.
Derek Norris singled in Alberto Callaspo with the bases loaded, and Craig Gentry scored on the same play when the ball skipped past right fielder Jake Marisnick for an error. Adam Dunn's RBI single to right beat the defensive shift by the Astros' infield and made it 3-1.
GOING SIX DEEP
The Astros plan to start rookie RHP Nick Tropeano on Wednesday in Seattle and will go with a six-man rotation for the remainder of the season. Tropeano was called up from the minors this week and will make his major league debut against the Mariners.
Astros: Interim manager Tom Lawless said the team hopes to get OF George Springer back for the final six games of the season. Springer has missed 43 games due to a left quadriceps strain.
Athletics: Stephen Vogt (left ankle sprain) will not play in the series against the Astros. ... LHP Sean Doolittle (strained intercostal) is scheduled to throw on flat ground Saturday. If all goes well for the Oakland closer, the next step will be throwing off a mound.
Astros: RHP Scott Feldman (8-10) is coming off his second career shutout, a three-hitter against Texas. He has beaten Oakland only once in five career starts.
Athletics: LHP Scott Kazmir (14-7) had a 7.80 ERA over his six starts in August.