There’s at least a glimmer of optimism around the Pittsburgh Pirates these days after they’ve raced out to their fastest start in seven years. Things might look even brighter for the Pirates if they could find a way to avoid the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates have lost 13 straight to the Brewers overall and 16 in a row at Miller Park, a pair of troublesome streaks they’ll try to snap Tuesday night when they continue their three-game set in Milwaukee.
Pittsburgh (11-8) tied the major-league record with its 16th consecutive losing season in 2008, and with much of the same roster around for 2009, it figured to be a shoo-in to break that infamous mark.
What no one anticipated, though, was a drastic improvement by the Pirates’ pitching staff, which last season sported an NL-worst 5.08 ERA. Pittsburgh entered its first series of the year with the Brewers (9-10) boasting a 2.97 ERA - the best in baseball.
It also came in with a 13-game losing streak against last season’s NL wild card and a 15-game skid in Milwaukee, where it hadn’t won since May 3, 2007.
The Pirates got a rare poor outing from a starter as Jeff Karstens gave up five runs - including three homers - in five innings, but they still had a chance to win after Freddy Sanchez’s RBI double tied the score at five in the eighth inning.
Milwaukee, though, put up five more runs in the bottom of the inning against Pittsburgh’s bullpen on its way to a 10-5 victory.
“I committed the cardinal sin of relief pitching by walking the leadoff man and then hitting the next guy who was trying to bunt,” said reliever Tyler Yates, who was charged with three runs despite not allowing a hit. “I’ve got to make them earn their way on and I didn’t do that.”
A Pittsburgh native stands in the Pirates’ way of breaking their hex against the Brewers, and Dave Bush (1-0, 3.86 ERA) is coming off one of his best starts in the majors.
The right-hander didn’t earn a decision in his first two outings, but he took matters into his own hands Thursday at Philadelphia. Bush carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before giving up a solo home run, his only blemish in the Brewers’ 6-1 victory.
“It’s a lot more fun than getting your butt beat,” Bush told Milwaukee’s official Web site. “Giving up line drives all over the place is not fun. This was a situation where I was able to kind of control the game and throw a lot of strikes, and those are the games that are fun to pitch.”
Bush is 2-0 with a 2.70 in his last four starts against the Pirates.
Pittsburgh’s Nate McLouth is hitting .400 (8-for-20) with a homer against Bush, but the Brewers’ right-hander likely won’t have to worry about McLouth on Tuesday. The All-Star has missed the past four games with a strained oblique, and is thought to be at least another day away from returning.
Top starter Paul Maholm (3-0, 2.03) will try to pick up his fourth straight win for the Pirates, but it won’t be easy. He’s 0-5 with a 5.23 ERA in his last seven starts versus Milwaukee, and he’s especially had trouble against Mike Cameron. The Brewers’ center fielder is 11-for-18 (.600) with three homers against Maholm, and he hit one of the three shots off Karstens on Monday.
Maholm’s last start was his worst of the season - he gave up four runs in six innings - but that was still good enough to get the decision in the Pirates’ 7-4 win over Florida on Wednesday.