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By Chad Carlson
Photo Credit: AP
As the Pirates took the field tonight against the Washington Nationals, it felt strange to be thinking that this was a must-win game for the Bucs.  After all, this is only the club’s 41st game and we’re still in May.  But after the start the Pirates had, particularly on the road, and the way the past week has gone, The Buccos needed a win tonight to stop the bleeding of a five-game losing streak handed out by the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers. Paul Maholm took the ball for the Pirates, looking for some more run support from his offense as he was in search of his second victory of the season.
Unfortunately, the common theme of the offense’s inability to consistently put runs on the board continued tonight.  The Nationals got a couple big hits in the latter innings, and the Pirates left too many men on base as they dropped the first game of this short two game set, 4-2.
Things did start off well for Pittsburgh tonight though.  The Pirates got the scoring started in the first inning.  Andrew McCutchen scored the game’s first run on Steve Pearce’s infield single.  It was nice to see the Buccos return to the days earlier this season when they maintained quite a streak of games in which they scored in the first inning.  Pearce’s RBI gave the Pirates an early 1-0 advantage.
The Nationals evened things in the bottom half of the opening frame on an RBI single of their own from Wilson Ramos, scoring Ian Desmond.
After the first inning, both pitchers settled in and put together a string of scoreless innings.  The Pirates certainly had their chances to score though in each of the next several innings. 
Jerry Hairston Jr. broke the tie in the fifth inning with a solo shot on a 3-1 count off Maholm.  At that point, the Nationals had the narrow 2-1 advantage.
Andrew McCutchen tied the game up for the Buccos in the top of the seventh with an RBI triple, scoring Ronny Cedeno.  The three-bagger was the second in as many days for Cutch, and Cedeno reached base safely three times on the night. 
The Nationals took the lead right back in the bottom of the seventh.  After recording the first out in the inning, Maholm was pulled by Clint Hurdle, who gave the ball to Jose Ascanio.  The right-handed reliever’s first pitch to Danny Espinosa was hammered deep over the right field wall.  Espinosa’s two-run shot also scored Laynce Nix, and the Nationals took the 4-2 lead.
The Pirates created some minor drama in the ninth, as Ryan Doumit and Garrett Jones each had pinch-hit singles to put runners on first and second base with one out.  Hard-hit flyouts by McCutchen and Jose Tabata ended the game, as the Bucs dropped their sixth straight game.
Tonight’s game was a case of one team taking advantage of opportunities, and the other team squandering too many chances.  The Nationals scored four runs on only six hits, while the Pirates tallied ten hits, only resulting in two runners crossing home plate.  The Buccos left seven men on base throughout the game.  When an offense is struggling, it is imperative to get those runners home when they get on base.  That didn’t happen tonight for Pittsburgh, and that’s why they lost this game.
It was another wasted start by Paul Maholm.  The Bucco southpaw pitched a strong game, retiring 13 straight Nationals at one point tonight.  Paul pitched 6.1 innings, giving up three runs on four hits, walking two and striking out seven.  His ERA sits at 3.67 as he has fallen to 1-6 for the season.
The offense can’t score runs.  Until they do, the Pirates will continue to lose.
After winning last Monday over the Dodgers and having a record of one game over .500, the Pirates have lost six straight games as they enter the final game of this short two-game series with the Nationals.  Charlie Morton will take the hill for Pittsburgh.
Record Vs. Nationals: 2-2
Record Vs. N.L. East: 2-5
Record On The Road: 11-12
Overall Record: 18-23
And…
As Always…
Let’s Go Bucs!