By MATT BECKER
(AP) -- While it's been an up-and-down first half of the season for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Houston Astros have been spiraling steadily downward for the last several weeks.
Having to face Yovani Gallardo doesn't look like it will help Houston.
Gallardo seeks to win his eighth straight start against the Astros, who try to avoid a ninth consecutive loss overall in Friday night's series opener.
The Brewers (38-44) arrive in Houston after losing the final two games of their series with Miami to finish their homestand 4-3 and drop eight games out of first place in the NL Central.
"That's the way it's gone all year," outfielder Ryan Braun told the Brewers' official website after Thursday's 4-0 loss. "Two steps forward, three steps back. We'll continue to stay optimistic, continue to fight, continue to compete every day. We just haven't played good enough baseball to consistently win games."
They seem to have a good chance of winning with Gallardo (6-6, 3.87 ERA) going up against the Astros (32-51).
The Brewers' staff ace is 10-2 with a 2.81 ERA lifetime against Houston, his most wins against any opponent. This will be his first start of the season versus the Astros, who have won the last three meetings with Milwaukee after losing the previous 11.
Gallardo has walked nine in his last two starts overall but has allowed only two runs and seven hits over 12 2-3 innings in that stretch. He overcame five walks to post 6 2-3 scoreless innings Sunday in Milwaukee's 2-1 win over Arizona.
The right-hander, who has yielded three runs or fewer in 11 of his last 12 starts, might try to attack the strike zone against a Houston lineup that is averaging 2.3 runs during its season high-tying eight-game skid. The Astros, who are a major league-worst 10-28 since May 26, haven't dropped nine in a row since Sept. 13-22, 2009.
In Thursday's 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh - Houston's first game since trading Carlos Lee - the Astros managed four singles, the sixth time in nine games they finished with five hits or fewer.
"There's no doubt we want to reverse what's going on," manager Brad Mills said.
That seems like a tall order considering Chris Johnson, 2 for 20 with nine strikeouts in his last six games, is 1 for 9 against Gallardo, and Jose Altuve - stuck in a 7-for-38 (.184) slump - is 1 for 5.
Just as Gallardo has owned the Astros, the same is true for two of the biggest bats in Milwaukee's lineup.
Corey Hart is 7 for 16 with two doubles, a triple and three homers versus Houston this season, extending his hitting streak in the series to 13 games. Braun is 7 for 21 with two homers and four RBIs against the Astros this year, and has six home runs and 18 RBIs in 20 games against them since 2011.
Also since the start of last season, Braun is 5 for 11 with a homer and a double against scheduled starter J.A. Happ (6-8, 4.81), while Hart is 5 for 10 with a home run and two doubles.
Happ, though, was sharp in his last meeting with the Brewers on May 17, giving up seven hits in six innings of a 4-0 win.
Against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, the left-hander allowed three runs, five hits and four walks in six innings of a 3-2 loss, his fifth defeat in as many starts against NL opponents.
Updated July 6, 2012