Baker powers hot Marlins past slumping Astros

MIAMI -- Although only 10 games remain, the Florida Marlins refuse to count themselves out of the postseason just yet.

John Baker drove in four runs and scored twice, leading the Florida Marlins over the fading Houston Astros 8-1 for their eighth straight victory.

"We've got to keep winning," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We've got to do our part and see what happens."

The Marlins, who are on their longest winning streak since they won nine consecutive in 2006, are tied with the Astros in the NL wild-card race, five games behind the leading New York Mets. They open a three-game home series against NL East leader Philadelphia on Friday night. The Marlins trail the Phillies by 5 1/2 games in the division race.

"Skip talked to us the other day and he said as long as there's no 'x' by our name, we're still in it," Baker said. "That's the mentality we've been taking. We're trying to get ahead early, keep guys down and win baseball games."

Houston has struggled since Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast. The Astros had won six straight and 14 of 15 before the storm, but have since dropped five straight.

"It's just been a team-wide collapse, basically," first baseman Lance Berkman said. "There's no way to sugarcoat it. You can make all the excuses you want. We just haven't played well."

Marlins starter Scott Olsen (8-10) allowed one run and three hits over seven innings to win his second straight start.

"We're just trying to win some ballgames here. We know its not over, but we've just got to keep winning," Olsen said. "We don't have a lot of room for error."

Florida scored twice in the second, fourth, sixth and eighth innings.

Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla scored on Cody Ross' double in the eighth to give the Marlins their final two runs.

Cameron Maybin, acquired in an offseason deal that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit, scored on Baker's double in the sixth inning. Maybin went 4-for-4 in his first start for Florida. Later in the sixth, Mike Jacobs' broken-bat single scored Baker to make it 6-1.

Baker doubled off Chris Sampson in the fourth inning to drive home Maybin. Cantu then doubled to left to score Baker and put Florida up 4-1. The Marlins took the lead for good on Baker's bases-loaded single in the second inning, which scored Ross and Alfredo Amezaga and made it 2-1.

"We got our hats handed to us," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. "We just didn't pitch in this series. We didn't hit. Heck, we didn't even catch the ball and that's something we do real well."

For the second straight game, Houston's starting pitcher made an early exit. Alberto Arias (1-1) lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his second major league start, giving up two runs and five hits.

Houston starter Brandon Backe lasted just 1 2/3 innings Wednesday night.

Arias said rain that fell early in the game contributed to his problems on the mound.

"I couldn't control the ball because my hand was so wet," Arias said. "I couldn't make my pitches. I tried to throw strikes, every ball went away."

Kazuo Matsui scored in the first inning off Berkman's groundout to put the Astros up 1-0.

"We've faced a run of really good pitching," Berkman said. "But again, this is the major leagues. They have good pitching here. We just have not played well and consequently, we are in dire, dire straights."

All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez was out of the Marlins' starting lineup one day after leaving Wednesday's game with a strained left shoulder. Maybin took Ramirez's place batting leadoff and Amezaga moved to shortstop.

Game notes
The Astros open a three-game series at Pittsburgh on Friday night. ... The players took the field as a steady rain fell Thursday. The grounds crew was dispatched to the soggy infield four times in the first four innings.