If the Pittsburgh Pirates were fired up about starting a week of baseball over .500, they had an interesting way of showing it.
Exactly seven days after they eclipsed .500 and pushed their way towards the top of the NL Central, the Pirates (18-23) dropped six straight and fell to fourth in the division.
Their last loss came yesterday to the Washington Nationals, and for Paul Maholm, it was the same old story. The right-hander gave up three runs on four hits in six and one-third innings. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates gave him the same performance they have all year — poor at the plate, poor in the bullpen,and poor on defense.
Maholm (1-6, 3.67 ERA) has pitched nine starts. In those nine starts, the Pirates have backed him up with an embarrassing total of 14 runs (about 1.5 runs a game). In four of his nine starts the Pirates have scored no runs.
On Monday, they out-hit the Nationals 10-6, but managed to go 2-12 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base. These kinds of showings have defined Maholm’s season thus far.
“Tonight’s just kind of how the season’s gone for me,” Maholm said after the game on Pirates.com.
The scary thing is that Maholm isn’t alone. In fact, the best run support any pitcher in the Pirates starting rotation is getting is 3.88 runs a game for Kevin Correia, which isn’t much to brag about.
To give you an idea of how bad that is, consider the fact that the 40th best pitching run support average last season went to J.A. Happ, who got 6.49 runs a game. That’s nearly double the best the Pirates have to offer this year.
It’s no coincidence that Correia is having the best season of any of the Pirates starters.
Earlier in the week, the Bucs dropped the Dodgers series with a 10-3 loss on Tuesday and 2-0 loss on Wednesday. This came after the Pirates took game one to pass .500. At the end of last week, the Pirates took off and headed for Milwaukee.
The slide continued as the Pirates dropped games one and two of the series. However, the team looked forward to game three, because Correia was set to start.
For a pitcher that has been called the “King of the Road,” even Correia couldn’t survive a trip to Milwaukee. He was entering game three of the Brewers series looking to be the first Pirates pitcher to reach six wins before May 15th since Neal Heaton and Doug Drabek both reached that mark in 1990. All five of his previous wins had come on the road.
Yet, those numbers didn’t prevent the Bucs from being wary about another game in Milwaukee. And, rightfully so; entering this series, they were 3-30 in Brewers stadium since 2007. After dropping the first two, they had lost eight straight there and fallen to 3-32.
So, it came as no surprise to me or anyone else watching the game when a five-run inning wasn’t enough for the Pirates to overcome an early 6-0 deficit. The Brewers simply dominated both the series and the final game. The Pirates flew out of Milwaukee 3-33 in the city since 2007, with nine consecutive losses. Those kinds of numbers are almost unbelievable for a team that is a division rival and only two games ahead of the Pirates this season.
Now sitting six back from the division lead, the Pirates will need to finish May strong in order to keep pace with the rest of the pack. Six-game skids are tough to recover from, and the road isn’t going to get much easier. With the last game of the Nationals series postponed, the Bucs next three series are against some of the top talent in the Majors.
First, they go on the road against the Cincinnati Reds (24-17, first NL Central). Then they have two home stands against the Detroit Tigers (22-19, second AL Central), and the Atlanta Braves (24-19, third NL East).
With the Reds, Pittsburgh will get a chance to knock off their division leader. It won’t be easy, but the only remedy for the losing streak blues is to win.