The Pirates' season is in jeopardy of being over before the calendar turns to May.
Pittsburgh fell to 5-15 on Sunday with a 7-2 loss to the National League Central-leading Astros. The Pirates are off to their worst start since also going 5-15 in 1957, and they already find themselves nine games behind Houston in the division standings.
A 14th straight losing season seems inevitable already, as the Pirates would have to go 77-65 the rest of the year to get over .500.
The Pirates, who were 67-95 in 2005, had hopes of being an improved club coming into the season after acquiring three veterans -- first baseman Sean Casey, third baseman Joe Randa and right fielder Jeromy Burnitz -- to bolster an offense that was 14th in the 16-team NL in runs scored last season.
However, Casey is out until at least early June with two small fractures in his lower left back, while Randa and Burnitz have not performed up to expectations and are showing why they were still on the free agent market after Christmas.
"It's frustrating knowing that you are probably a little bit better than you were last year," left fielder Jason Bay said. "You should be doing better, but you're not. I think it makes everyone kind of press to do a little more than they probably should. I think that's compounding the program."
Catcher Humberto Cota also admits that the Pirates are feeling the stress of already being 10 games under .500 just three weeks into the season.
"Everybody has put a lot of pressure on themselves," Cota said. "We just have to go out there and relax. It's not going to get any easier."
REPLAY: The Pirates showed again Sunday that they are a long way from being considered among the elite teams in the National League Central as they were hammered 7-2 by the Astros in Houston. The Astros swept the three-game series, and the Pirates are now 1-5 in a stretch of nine games against Houston and St. Louis, the NL Central foes who met in the last two National League Championship Series.
The Pirates were held to one run and six hits in seven innings by Astros starter Roy Oswalt. They open a three-game series Monday night against the Cardinals, who took two of three in Pittsburgh last week, and will face reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.
Oswalt and Carpenter are two of three pitchers who won 20 games in the NL last season, along with Florida's Dontrelle Willis.
The Pirates, who have lost four straight games and six of their last seven, also have been horrible away from home, going 1-9.
--C Humberto Cota started Sunday behind the plate for the first time in four games, but Pirates manager Jim Tracy has decided that C Ronny Paulino will get the majority of starts at catcher, at least until C Ryan Doumit is activated from the disabled list. Cota is a better defensive catcher, but Paulino also has a strong arm and is more of an offensive threat. Doumit is eligible to be activated Friday and says his strained left hamstring is much improved.
--3B Joe Randa isn't proving to be very durable. Randa, 36, was given another day off Sunday and has started just 14 of the first 20 games because of a variety of nagging injuries. INF Jose Hernandez started at third base Sunday and was 0-for-2. Hernandez has just one hit in his last 12 at bats.
--RHP Ian Snell left his start Saturday night after six innings because of a strained calf but should make his next scheduled start Friday night against Philadelphia. Snell was the hard-luck loser as he gave up only two runs in six innings. It was easily his best outing of the season as he was 0-1 with a 9.60 ERA in his first three starts.
--LF Jason Bay is a combined 4-for-60 (.067) with 17 strikeouts against the three Cardinals pitchers scheduled to start in the three-game series that begins Monday night in St. Louis. Bay is 1-for-16 (.063) with six strikeouts against RHP Chris Carpenter, 2-for-18 (.111) with six strikeouts against RHP Jeff Suppan and 1-for-16 (.063) with five strikeouts against LHP Mark Mulder.
--SS Jack Wilson, who has been a bright spot during the Pirates' dismal start, went 3-for-4 Sunday. Wilson is 20-for-54 (.370) with four homers and 10 RBIs in his last 14 games.