CHICAGO -- The Cubs appear to have shut down the offense for the season.
Jason Castro hit a solo home run to back Bud Norris and lead the Astros to a 3-0 victory Tuesday night over the Cubs, who were shut out for the second straight game.
This was the first meeting between teams with 100 losses since Sept. 30, 1962, when the Cubs and Mets squared off in the season finale at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won, 5-1, and closed the year 59-103. That was the Mets' first season, and they finished 40-120. Chicago and Houston close the 2012 campaign on Wednesday.
"Not many people around here have been through this many losses in a season," said Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations. "It should serve as motivation. It's a very stark baseline of where we are and how much improvement we need to make."
Chris Volstad struck out six, the most since his first start April 9, when he also fanned a half dozen.
"It did feel good to finish that way, just being myself," Volstad said. "I could've used a few more of those. It felt good to have one that way, especially to end [the season] and go into the offseason with a positive."
It was a much improved outing from his last start against the Rockies when he gave up seven runs over three innings. On Tuesday, Volstad was charged with two runs over seven innings, matching his longest outing of the year on Aug. 4.
"He's another guy, like anybody else, who has to make adjustments, and be more consistent with the game plans, the consistency with his stuff and knowing how to use his stuff on any given day," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's a guy who has big league stuff who has to learn how to use it at the big league level on a consistent basis."
Volstad isn't alone. The team has several young players who have experienced growing pains in this rebuilding season.
"The bottom line is the young players in this organization, it's a great opportunity," Sveum said. "A lot of people can see that and you've got to be able to jump up and take that situation and run with it, otherwise, there's somebody here to take your job or someone from another organiztion or a six-year free agent."
There's no set date for when the Cubs will turn things around.
"When you use the word 'rebuilding,' there isn't a timetable on it," Sveum said. "All different kinds of major sports, you can take a lot of examples, and take a team that lost 100 games and the next year they won 90 games. It's all about the pieces, and if you hit the jackpot with some players and guys have career years and all of a sudden you win 90 games because of it."
On Monday, the Cubs managed two hits. On Tuesday, they mustered four, and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
"Deja vu [from] last night," Sveum said. "Not a lot of good at-bats, not a lot of quality at-bats again and left some guys, striking out with guys in scoring position. It kind of typifies the whole season these last two nights, swinging the bats."
With two outs in the Astros' second, Castro lined a 1-2 pitch from Volstad into the right-field bleachers. Justin Maxwell then reached second on a fielding error by shortstop Starlin Castro and scored on Tyler Greene's single, although the Cubs thought second baseman Darwin Barney had tagged Greene in a rundown between first and second. Sveum argued Greene had run out of the basepath.
"I didn't feel a tag," Barney said. "That wasn't what our concern was. I came into the throw and was working out of the baseline and somehow he got around. That's a judgment call on the umpire's part. You've got to live with what they call."
Alberto Cabrera walked pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic to start the Astros' eighth, and he moved up on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt, advanced on a groundout, and scored on a wild pitch. It's been that kind of season for the Cubs.
The Cubs have been shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since July 21-22 at St. Louis, and have lost 29 straight games when scoring three runs or less, dating to a 3-2 win against the Cardinals on July 28. They'd like to end with at least one more "W."
"Whenever you go into the winter when you finish good as a starter, whether you're swinging the bat really well, you have a lot better winter, you sleep a lot better," Sveum said. "It makes a big difference how you finish."
Sveum will shake up his lineup for Wednesday's finale and use the reserves. Expect Castro to start at shortstop, which would be Game No. 162 for him, but Adrian Cardenas, for example, will start at second.
"For the most part, the season didn't go very well, obviously, but a lot of these guys deserve to kick back," Sveum said of his regulars. "Just let them sit back and watch a game for once. I asked [Alfonso Soriano] if he wanted 110 RBIs or whatever, and he said, 'No, I'm fine.'"
One more to go.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.