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12 May 2008

Pirates are 9-5 so far this month!

Finally! A winning record is on our radar!

The Pirates are now an amazing (well, for the Pirates anyhow) 20-21. They go into Wrigley today to see if they can improve their record for the month of May. Unfortunately, they have had a tough time against the Cubbies this season. Hopefully, we can turn it around tonight. They seem to be getting key hits at the right times. I feel they are weathering their injuries fairly well. I would love to see us pull above .500 this far into the season. We will see though!

Maholm has chance to end road woes

ST. LOUIS -- They say things are always better at home. You know, comforts such as mom's cooking and sleeping in your own bed.

Add Paul Maholm's results to that list.

Maholm's numbers on the road compared to his home stats this season have been like night and day.

One has been superb. The other, leaving much left to be desired.

As Maholm looks to seal a third consecutive series win for the Bucs, he'll also be trying to buck a trend of dismal road performances. His last road win came on Aug. 23 of last season, even though he has made five road starts since then. Maholm's numbers during that span are not impressive: The lefty has lasted just 19 2/3 innings and allowed 32 earned runs.

This season, Maholm has dropped all three road starts, accounting for all of his losses. Contrasting to the 9.60 ERA Maholm has on the road this season is his 2-0 record and 2.05 ERA at home. Opponents are hitting .394 against him on the road, while they have hit below the Mendoza line (.200) in Maholm's starts at PNC Park.

While Maholm knows that he needs to develop more consistency on the road, he has insisted all season that his road results are bound to change and don't have anything to do with a change in approach.

Maholm will look to limit his pitch count, a problem that has plagued him in each of his road starts this season. And he'll look to limit the damage early -- he has allowed five and six runs, respectively, in the first two inning of each of his past two starts.

Maholm has never made a start in the Cardinals' home park. In four career starts against St. Louis, however, Maholm has allowed just six earned runs over 23 2/3 innings.

While the lefty will be trying to break his own personal road losing streak, he'll also be looking to continue a stellar streak of starting pitching by the Pirates over the past week.

The team's 7-1 record over the past eight games has been fueled by its starters. Not including a spot start by John Van Benschoten on Monday, Pirates starters are a combined 5-1 with a 3.47 ERA during that span.

Pitching matchup
PIT: LHP Paul Maholm (2-3, 4.79 ERA)
If Maholm hadn't tried an unwise defensive play in his last start, he may well have finished six innings of work without giving up a run. Instead, his attempt to try to snag a grounder led to four Giants runs in and a no-decision for Maholm. The lefty ran up a high pitch count early, but retired the last seven hitters he faced and did well in keeping the ball down. Maholm is 1-2 with a 2.28 ERA in three starts against St. Louis.

STL: RHP Todd Wellemeyer (3-1, 3.56 ERA)
Wellemeyer deserved better after allowing only a pair of unearned runs in six solid innings Friday in Milwaukee, but Isringhausen blew his fifth save with two outs in the ninth, and Milwaukee rallied for a victory.

Well, We Lost...Doesn't Mean We Have To Like It!

Well, Van Benschoten sent to Triple-A because of this game. Check out the link attached to the title. It looked like Hudson had our number that whole second game like Duke had the Braves in the first game.

Fast Facts

• The Braves avoided being swept by the Pirates for the first time since Sept. 1-3, 1978.

• Pittsburgh snapped its longest winning streak since taking 10 straight from June 25-July 5, 2004. The Pirates had won six in a row.

• The Braves, who own the majors' worst road record at 5-14, put an end to their seven-game road skid.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates boarded a flight to St. Louis on the heels of an 8-1 loss to the Braves in the second game of a doubleheader on Monday, but there was no sour taste left by how this most recent homestand ended.

"It's not a bad ending," said Adam LaRoche, whose two-run homer in Game 1 helped to seal the Pirates' 5-0 win in that game. "This just happened to be the last one before we leave. All in all, it was a great homestand. They weren't really lucky wins. I think we outplayed them."

Trying to cap off a perfect homestand with a sweep of the Braves, John Van Benschoten couldn't mirror the success of the Pirates' starters over the past week. And when he stumbled early, so did the Pirates.

However, looking past Van Benschoten's struggles, the Pirates couldn't be more content with how this seven-game stretch played out.

It started with a sweep of the struggling Giants, a club not expected to do much this season. But winning the first three in a four-game series against perennial contenders, the Braves, did more than just up the total in the win column. After skidding to three losses against the Nationals, this pick-me-up has the Pirates believing that they have the potential to compete with the best.

"They are obviously a very respected team," LaRoche added. "So, to come in and take three out of four is a big step for us."

When Monday's Game 1 win gave the Pirates a six-game winning streak -- the longest for the team since it reeled off 10 consecutive wins back in 2004 -- they saw themselves back at just one game under .500 for the first time since April 18.

"It was a great homestand for us," manager John Russell said. "We feel pretty good about how we're playing the game, and we realize that if we get all the pieces working together we're a pretty good ballclub.

Added Jason Bay: "That was a big series for us. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, we're going to go as far as our pitchers take us."

In those six wins, Pirates starters posted a 4-0 record and a 2.29 ERA. They averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per start.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, however, Van Benschoten wasn't able to take advantage of his chance to make a new impression in front of a new management. His spot start didn't go as smoothly as he had hoped and neither did the aftermath, which saw Van Benschoten optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis rather than joining the club on the plane to St. Louis.

The Pirates had won Game 1 hours earlier behind six scoreless innings from Zach Duke and a clutch two-out, three-run double by Freddy Sanchez. Van Benschoten then ran into an Atlanta team poised to break out of an offensive funk.

The Pittsburgh righty had pitched exclusively out of the bullpen since being called up on April 27. However, he took the mound not having seen any game time since May 3.

But Van Benschoten didn't attribute his final line score -- four-plus innings, six earned runs, nine hits -- to the long layoff.

"If you don't pitch for eight or nine days, that shouldn't matter," he said. "You should prepare yourself to pitch. For the most part, I think I was prepared. Just toward the end I think I fell off."

For the first three innings, it looked as if the newfound aggressiveness and confidence that Russell lauded Van Benschoten for prior to the game was going to make a difference. The right-hander's pitches were consistently around the strike zone. He threw a first-pitch ball to just three of the 12 hitters he'd face in those first three frames.

"My pitches were down and everything was rolling around well," he said.

"I thought he threw the ball well," Russell added.

But the Braves were due to break out of their slump. They scored their first run in 20 innings in the third before Van Benschoten -- and the Pirates' defense -- allowed two more the following inning to spot Atlanta a two-run lead.

An error by Doug Mientkiewicz at third helped the Atlanta cause and marked the fifth of what would be six errors on the afternoon for the Pirates. All six would be committed by someone different, including three different errors by three different Pirates third baseman.

Van Benschoten would be chased the following inning, with a three-run Brian McCann homer marking the biggest blow.

"I think the last few innings the ball was just getting up," said Van Benschoten, who is winless in his 10 starts over the past year.

To Tim Hudson's credit, Van Benschoten would have had to have been near perfect to match the Atlanta ace, who now has six wins on the season. The Bucs benefited from a fielding error to score once in the first, but would connect for just one more hit off Hudson in his seven innings of work.

"He was phenomenal," Russell said. "He changed speeds. He kept us off the plate. He kept us off balance the whole game."

Despite the loss, the Pirates finished their season series against Atlanta with a 5-2 record and upped their record at PNC Park to 12-8.

Game 1 of the doubleheader....

PITTSBURGH -- Even a rainout on Sunday couldn't halt a streaking Pirates team that used another strong starting pitching performance to reel off its sixth straight win, this one 5-0 over the Braves in Game 1 of a doubleheader at PNC Park on Monday afternoon.

Not only did the victory extend the team's season-best winning streak, but it also moved the Pirates to 7-0 in their last seven home games and to 5-1 against Atlanta this season. The Pirates will be looking for their third sweep of the season if they can take one more from the Braves in the second game of Monday's twin bill.

Zach Duke picked up the win and continues to sizzle in May. He finished with a six-inning quality start for the third time already this month. It wouldn't be the left-hander's most dominant performance, but, despite scattering five walks and five hits, Duke allowed only one Atlanta baserunner to reach third all afternoon. He would strand 10 Braves on base by the end of his day.

"He's keeping the ball down," manager John Russell said. "He's getting a lot more groundballs. That's the type of pitcher he is."

With the win, Duke notched back-to-back victories for the first time since Sept. 11 and 17, 2006.

"Pitch-quality is the difference," Duke said. "They are quality pitches. They have life to them. The sinker is on right now."

With Duke locked in a scoreless pitchers' duel through five, the Pirates offense took advantage of some uncharacteristic wildness by Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens to take the lead in the sixth.

Right fielder Jason Michaels drew a five-pitch walk to start the inning, before Adam LaRoche hit a shallow popup that dropped just in front of Atlanta outfielder Matt Diaz. After runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt, Brian Bixler took a ball off his name on the back of his jersey to load the bases.

Jurrjens battled back from a 3-0 count to strike out Duke, but wouldn't have similar success against Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez sliced a bases-clearing double into the right-field corner to give the Pirates a lead that the pitching staff would not relinquish.

"That was huge," Duke said. "That was the difference maker. He's steady Freddy. That's what he does."

With the hit, Sanchez moved to 3-for-5 with eight RBIs on the season when hitting with the bases loaded. He is also 10-for-24 with eight RBIs since moving to the leadoff spot, a move that coincides with the beginning of the team's winning streak.

Adam LaRoche would extend that lead with a two-run homer to right in the eighth off Atlanta reliever Manny Acosta.

The Pirates did snap their six-game errorless streak, however, as they finished the game with four different players making errors. Michaels' fifth-inning error was the first of the now Major League-leading 36 team errors that has been committed by an outfielder.

Inching our way to .500! I would love to see it again outside the first week of the year!


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