Punchless Pirates' losing streak at nine games

Post-trade offense, Maholm's six runs lead to 11-3 loss to Brewers

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Never have Jason Bay and Xavier Nady looked more valuable.

The suddenly punchless Pirates saw their losing streak reach nine games with the 11-3 mauling by Milwaukee last night at PNC Park, mustering just six hits, including three over seven innings off the Brewers' Jeff Suppan and his 4.58 ERA. The other half came in the ninth, well after the rout was on.

"We haven't scored much," manager John Russell said. "That's about it."

As a result, the Pirates have not won much, either, in the aftermath of the Bay and Nady trades: The record for August now is 7-20, and another loss today -- CC Sabathia will make Milwaukee a prohibitive favorite -- would wrap up a 21-loss month, the franchise's worst since August 2000. The .250 winning percentage would be the worst since a .185 mark in September 1998, as well as the third-worst in the past 57 years.

  • Box score
  • Statistics
  • Standings
  • Tomorrow
    • Game: Pirates vs. Brewers, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
    • TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
    • Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-3, 3.48) vs. LHP CC Sabathia (8-0, 1.59).
    • Key matchup: Who would want to face Sabathia? In his past 15 starts, he is 12-0 with a 1.66 ERA. That includes 8-0 since Milwaukee acquired him.
    • Of note: Nate McLouth needs five more home runs to tie Brian Giles' franchise-record 28 for a center fielder, set in 1999. Frank Thomas had 25 in 1953, Andy Van Slyke the same number in 1988.

"No question, the trades have had an effect," Russell said. "Sometimes, it takes just one bat coming out of the lineup. Well, we took out two big ones. We understood that at the time, but we hoped things would carry over better than they have."

The difference has been stark: Through July 31, the day of the Bay trade, the Pirates ranked third in the National League in runs, seventh in all of Major League Baseball. This month, their 82 runs rank 29th among all 30 teams, the 18 home runs rank 27th, the .245 average 26th.

Of the two offensive acquisitions in those trades: Brandon Moss is batting .235 since joining the Pirates, with a boost from a home run and double last night that drew the only rise out of the 21,931 on hand. And Andy LaRoche, after a pinch-hit groundout, dropped to .126, just 9 for 71.

"They're young, and you don't expect those guys to fill those holes right away," Russell said.

The trades were plenty unpopular in the clubhouse, as management had anticipated, but the grumbling long since has shifted focus from that to what has gone awry with those who remained.

"Those trades, as far as I'm concerned, that's over," center fielder Nate McLouth said after going 0 for 3 with a walk. "Right now, I don't know what to say, except that this is extremely frustrating."

All of it, he meant.

"The losing hurts."

On this night, even Paul Maholm was hit hard for the first time in three months in allowing six runs in 51/3 innings, including a solo home run by Corey Hart in the second and a three-run shot by Mike Cameron in the sixth. That ended a streak of 20 consecutive starts of six-plus innings that began May 8.

Maholm sounded none too pleased, apparently taking up Russell's declaration Thursday that pitchers need to find ways to win regardless of the offense.

Asked if the changeup to Cameron was the decent pitch it appeared to be, he replied, "No, not when you're throwing pitches right over the middle all night. I know they're a good-hitting team, but I don't care who you're facing when you're making pathetic pitches. They're going to hit them. ... Bottom line: We needed a win, and I didn't get it for us."

Milwaukee manager Ned Yost praised his offense.

"He's a great pitcher," Yost said of Maholm. "But we really hit some balls."

No kidding: Both home runs landed in the bullpens beyond center field, and several others in the North Side Notch, deepest part of the park.

Put it all together, including the late swoon, and it surely looks to Pittsburghers to be little different than years past.

"That's part of the frustration right now," Russell said. "You work so hard, and you go through a stretch like this and hear a lot of 'Told you so' or 'There they go again' or 'They're about to break the major league record.' "

The latter was a reference to the Pirates being four losses away from clinching a 16th consecutive losing season, matching the professional sports record.

"The burden of losing for the past 15 years is not on these guys," Russell continued. "I know it will be presented that way by a lot of people, but we've been saying this all along. We know where we want to go, and we think we're close. I know a lot of people don't think that, but we do. We'll keep working."

The work yesterday began early, when hitting coach Don Long rounded up all position players for a 3:30 p.m. meeting to stress getting back to the patient, productive approaches the Pirates displayed so often ... well, when Bay and Nady were in the lineup. Even general manager Neal Huntington was involved, spending time with Long and watching batting practice.

"There were some better approaches," Russell said. "Hopefully, we can build off it."

Milwaukee is 10-1 against the Pirates, outscoring them, 71-35.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . First Published August 31, 2008 4:15 AM


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