King Tut don't have nothin' on the Brew Crew when it comes to curses. The Bucs dropped their fourteenth straight game to Milwaukee tonight 6-5 after staking ace Paul Maholm to a 5-1 lead.
But Maholm didn't have anything going. He struggled through the first two innings, giving up a run, left the bases loaded in the third and fourth frames, and was charged with a pair of runs in both the fifth and sixth innings. Maholm gave up a five spot on seven hits and five walks in 5-1/3 innings.
Curiously, JR decided to keep an obviously laboring Maholm in the game in the sixth. He let him lead off the frame, and face three batters in the home half of the inning, giving up a leadoff homer and a single that Freddy Sanchez probably wishes he had back sandwiched around an out.
Our guess is that Russell was hoping to get another inning out of Maholm before dipping into the bullpen again; it didn't pan out. Jesse Chavez came on and gave up a blast on his second pitch, and that was all the fat lady needed.
Without Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit, the Bucco attack has been surprisingly effective. Eric Hinske had a two-out, two run double in the third, Brian Bixler used his speed to create another run in the fourth, hustling to second for a dink double and later scoring on a short sac fly, and Jason Jaramillo doubled home another pair in the fifth.
But the Pirates are approaching a danger zone. The starting pitching is leaving too many innings open, exposing the bullpen like it did last season, and the staff is either nibbling at the plate or losing command - they've walked 17 batters in the past two games at Miller Park.
Ian Snell (1-2, 4.50) goes against Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 3.71) in tomorrow's get-away game before the Bucs come home for a Friday date with the Reds. It's his turn to become a stopper, at least for this series, and staunch the bleeding.
Eleven of Pittsburgh's next fourteen games are against Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Saint Louis. The next two weeks could go a long way in determining if the Pirates can hang with the big dogs in the Central.