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ASTROS SLUMP LOWER THAN EVER BEFORE

Not even the Colt .45s were this bad for this long.

The Houston Astros will try to end the worst slump in franchise history tonight against a team with the NL's best record. Houston takes an 11-game losing streak into its three-game series at Atlanta."It doesn't matter who we're playing," Houston's James Mouton said. "A lot of people are beating us now."

The Astros' losing streak became their longest ever with a 6-4 defeat Monday night against the Florida Marlins. By sweeping four games from Houston, the Marlins extended their club-record home winning streak to 14 games.

All the Astros won was sympathy.

"I feel for those guys," Florida manager Rene Lachemann said. "It's not going to be a happy trip to Atlanta. But they'll come out of it."

Houston had lost 10 in a row four times, most recently in May 1974. Even the expansion Colt .45s, who lost 96 games as Houston's first major-league team in 1962, managed to avoid losing 11 straight.

Barely three weeks ago, Houston led the NL wild-card race by 5 1/2 games. Now they're 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia and Colorado, the new wild-card leaders.

The last team to lose so many consecutive games and still make the playoffs was the 1982 Atlanta Braves, who lost 11 in a row.

"We have to forget about what has happened," Houston shortstop Craig Shipley said.

The mystifying Marlins, meanwhile, find themselves just 61/2 games behind Colorado and Philadelphia. And Florida still has three games to play against the Rockies and seven against the Phillies. The Marlins open a three-game series at home tonight against Chicago.

To move into the wild-card lead, the Marlins must overtake seven teams. But slugger Gary Sheffield and catcher Charles Johnson are expected to return from the disabled list Friday, which should bolster both the offense and defense.

If none of the other wild-card contenders plays better than .500 ball the rest of the way - a big if - the Marlins would need a 24-9 finish to make the playoffs.

The Marlins might do better than that if they could play the rest of their games at home. They started the season 0-8 at Joe Robbie Stadium. But Florida's last loss at home was to San Diego on July 27.

Miami fans have yet to catch pennant fever. The Marlins' home winning streak is the longest in the majors this year, but Monday's crowd of 16,332 was the smallest of the season at Joe Robbie. Weather held down the turnout; the start was delayed 26 minutes by rain.

Dave Weathers (4-5), who lost his slot in the rotation this week to rookie Marc Valdes, earned the win in relief.

Weathers replaced Valdes, a former first-round draft pick making his major league debut, with a 3-3 tie, the bases loaded and none out in the fourth inning. Weathers pitched out of the jam while allowing only one run - on Derek Bell's double-play grounder.

Reds 5, Cardinals 2

Barry Larkin hit his 100th career home run and drove in four runs to support David Wells, who won his third straight game.

Wells (4-1) allowed six hits, struck out seven and walked none as host Cincinnati won its fourth straight.

Rockies 6, Pirates 3

Colorado, which has 59 victories and leads the majors with 166 homers, won for the ninth time this season without hitting a home run.

Eric Young had three hits and drove in three runs as the visiting Rockies rebounded from a weekend sweep to send the Pirates to their sixth straight loss.

Cubs 7, Braves 5

Sammy Sosa hit a pair of two-run homers to give him 29 home runs and a career-high 95 RBIs.

Jaime Navarro (12-5) had a career-high nine strikeouts in 71/3 innings to help the Cubs avoid a four-game series sweep.