The Houston Astros currently have a record of 26-35 and sit in fifth place of a weak NL Central. The three powerhouse teams of the division—the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds and defending World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals—have all played below expectations in 2012. The division is up for the taking, and a surprise team could end up winning the whole thing this year.
Unfortunately for Astros fans, the Pirates seem to be the one seizing the opportunity. This isn't to say Houston hasn't had opportunities. I have pinpointed five games that the Astros should have won, but due to late-inning troubles they fell into the loss column.
Here is some food for thought: If Houston won these five games, they would be 31-30 and within a game of the division lead.
Even though the Astros won the last two games of their opening series, the season opener is one they will want to forget. The Astros and the Rockies were tied at three heading into the top of the eighth when pinch-runner Eric Young scored on an error by Jason Castro.
Castro made a poor throw to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez in an attempt to catch Young stealing. The ball got past Gonzalez and ended up in the outfield, which was all Young needed to get home for the go-ahead run.
Even though this was the go-ahead run, the Astros made too many unforced errors throughout the game—four to be exact—and just couldn't overcome them.
The next game came 12 days later in Washington as Houston wasted a good pitching performance by Lucas Harrell, falling by a score of 3-2. He pitched 6.2 innings, striking out four and only giving up one run.
The eighth inning started great for Houston as the team took a 2-1 lead thanks to an RBI single by Jordan Schafer. Then the Nationals got up to bat and quickly loaded the bases thanks to two walks and a single. Rhiner Cruz came into the game and walked the first batter he faced to tie the game up at two.
Wilson Ramos knocked home the go-ahead run on a sac fly, and before Houston knew what happened, it had another loss.
This was the rubber match of the three-game series between the Reds and Astros. The Astros took the first one and the Reds followed it up with a victory of their own in the second game.
The Astros had a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, and the bullpen once again unraveled as Houston lost 6-5. In the bottom of the seventh, David Carpenter gave up a two-run single, but Houston still had a shot with the score tied at five.
However, that glimmer of hope was quickly extinguished as the first batter Fernando Rodriguez faced in the bottom of the eighth, Jay Bruce, launched a home run into the seats. This gave the Reds the go-ahead run they needed, and Houston went down one-two-three to end the game in the top of the ninth.
It is pretty deflating when you have the lead all game long and the other team steals one in the late innings. However, it is just as depressing, if not more, to tie the game up late with your own heroics and then lose in extras.
This is what happened in this game as the Astros fell to the Marlins 5-3 in a 12-inning contest. In the bottom of the ninth with Houston down one, Brian Bogusevic stepped to the plate and tried to play hero. He succeed in getting the tying run home on a single.
Houston, though, couldn't get over the hump, and the Marlins scored two in the top of the 12th, which were the deciding runs. The Astros used seven pitchers in this game, and David Carpenter, who had to go out for a second inning of work, gave up the deciding runs.
This is probably the game the Astros wish they had back the most. They had the lead going into the bottom of the ninth with Brett Myers coming in, who was lethal to this point in the season. Unfortunately, it wasn't his day and he gave up the tying run.
They ended up going to the bottom of the 12th (seems to be a bad inning for this club), where Josh Harrison had an RBI single that knocked in former Astro Clint Barmes. The reason it probably stung the most was it was against a division rival and sent the teams in opposite directions.
Since that game, Pittsburgh is 16-10 and currently a game out of first. Houston, on the other hand, has dropped 16 of its past 27 and currently sits 7.5 games out.