In the span of one week, the Houston Astros have gone from potential playoff team to the verge of elimination from postseason contention.
The slumping Astros try to avoid a third straight series loss when they close a three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.Houston (81-73) began last Sunday 2 1/2 games behind wild card-leading Milwaukee after winning 14 of 15. The move of what was originally scheduled to be a home series against the Chicago Cubs to Milwaukee's Miller Park, however, sent the team on a downward spiral.That series, moved because of Hurricane Ike, began with the Astros being no-hit by Carlos Zambrano and continued with four consecutive losses before Houston snapped the skid with a 5-1 win over Pittsburgh (65-90) on Friday.The Astros, however, lost 6-4 on Saturday to the Pirates, one of the majors' worst teams."We're at the point where we can't lose any more games, and I think we've felt that way the last 10 games," Brian Moehler said after allowing five runs in one inning Saturday. "When you've got (three) teams in front of you, it's hard to make up ground."The Astros, who were held to five runs during the losing streak, were 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position Saturday."First and third with nobody out in first inning, first and second with nobody out in the second, a leadoff two-base error in the fifth and a leadoff double in the sixth, and we get big goose eggs," manager Cecil Cooper said. "That's why we lost, we didn't do any damage in any innings when we had a chance. We had them on the ropes all night long, even after being down 5-0."With the loss, Houston fell five games behind the New York Mets for the wild-card lead. They also trail the Brewers and are tied with Florida.Houston tries to keep its faint playoff hopes alive Saturday when it hands the ball to ace Roy Oswalt (15-10, 3.66 ERA), who had his scoreless inning streak end at 32 1-3 innings on Tuesday against the Marlins.Oswalt, who pitched at least eight innings in five of his previous six starts, allowed five runs -- three earned -- and six hits over six innings of a 5-1 loss, just his second since the All-Star break. He struck out a season high-tying 10.The right-hander figures to bounce back against a team he's pitched well against. Oswalt is 12-6 with a 2.44 ERA in 23 starts against the Pirates. He is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts against them this season, including a three-hit shutout in a 6-0 win on Sept. 11.Ross Ohlendorf (0-2, 7.62) counters for the Pirates.Ohlendorf allowed three runs -- two earned -- and five hits over three innings of an 8-2 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday.The right-hander, who has lost his last two starts, is 0-1 with a 10.50 ERA in one start and two relief appearances against the Astros -- all coming in 2008.