HOUSTON - The Astros left Minute Maid Park on Saturday still in the NL Central race. A few hours later, their dreams for a division title disappeared.
The Astros lost to last-place Milwaukee for the second straight day, falling 5-2 Saturday as the Cubs clinched the Central.
"This whole week has been a playoff atmosphere because every game, every pitch has meant something," Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said after Houston lost. "You're a little drained at the end of each game, but certainly we've been ready at the start. We just didn't end up on top the last two games."
The Astros wondered what went wrong down the stretch. They were in first by 11/2 games over the Cubs on Sept. 19 but went 2-6 since.
"I guess if I knew what happened, we'd have done something to change it," Jeff Kent said. "The Cubbies have played well lately and we haven't. We've been just running on empty."
Leading 2-1 to start the sixth, the Brewers got five straight hits off Ron Villone and Brad Lidge in a three-run inning that put Milwaukee in control.
Wes Helms hit a two-out home run, his 23rd. After consecutive singles by Eddie Perez, Royce Clayton and Wes Obermueller, Scott Podsednik doubled off the leftfield wall and two scored for a 5-1 lead.
Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker saw it coming.
"I guess it was two days ago I sensed that we were trying to force something out there," Hunsicker said. "We were trying to make things happen and the guys were too tight. They were trying too hard, making forced errors."
Podsednik, who drove in three, had a run-scoring triple and Bill Hall hit a run-scoring single in the third. All the Milwaukee runs came with two outs.
Obermueller pitched a career-high eight innings and allowed 10 hits and two earned runs, walking none.
"He pitched the game of his life," Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said.