"I don't think our offense is a black hole or anything," manager Tony La Russa said.
But the defending World Series champions have been last in the majors in runs scored and had just one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position Sunday.
But that one hit ended third baseman Scott Rolen's personal nightmare and drove in two runs. Rolen, snarled in an 0-for-25 slide, smacked a two-run single with the bases loaded in the fourth inning after center fielder Jim Edmonds, also slumping, had been walked ahead of him.
It was a Sunday afternoon game, so the Cardinals should have been golden. In four such affairs this season, they had won all four, outscoring their opponents 35-13. On every other day and Sunday nights, they are 8-17 and have been outscored by a whopping 130-55.
The Cardinals are 2-4 since the death of reliever Josh Hancock a week ago. Their win Sunday was just their fifth in 15 home games.
CARDINALS 3, ASTROS 1: Braden Looper, who before this season hadn't started a big-league game in a career that had featured 572 straight relief appearances, gained his fourth win Sunday. Looper (4-2) has one more win than the rest of the Cardinals' starters, who are 3-14. Since it took him 100 pitches to navigate six innings, Looper needed help from three relievers. Russ Springer, Ryan Franklin and Jason Isringhausen all worked one scoreless inning.
NOTES AND QUOTES
--RHP Chris Carpenter, out since the season opener with an elbow injury, will undergo arthroscopic elbow surgery. He's not expected back before August.
--OF Ryan Ludwick, brought up from Class AAA Memphis, is the younger brother of former Cardinals RHP Eric Ludwick, who was part of the trade that brought Mark McGwire from Oakland to St. Louis in July 1997.
--RHP Russ Springer worked a scoreless seventh against the Astros in Sunday's victory, extending his scoreless streak to 11 games and 8 2/3 innings.
--After giving up another run Sunday against Houston, the Cardinals have been outscored 21-3 in the first inning.
--RHP Jason Isringhausen gained his eighth save in nine tries to move into 24th place on the career saves list at 257. "When we've had a chance to win, the bullpen has pitched well," manager Tony La Russa said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- The number of games in the first 29 in which the Cardinals scored in the first inning.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a tough game, and it will try to bury you." -- 2B Aaron Miles on the slumping Cardinals