PITTSBURGH — The season is not even two weeks old and the Milwaukee Brewers find themselves buried in last in one of baseball's most competitive divisions.
Manager Ron Roenicke insists it's way too early to panic. Still, something needs to be done with the Brewers off to the worst start in club history after another uninspired performance in a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Milwaukee has dropped five straight and is 2-10, the worst record in the majors.
"These guys need to get it going," Roenicke said. "We shouldn't be doing this every night and something needs to change. We need somebody to come up and step up and throw a great ballgame or we need the offense to start clicking like we know it can and should be."
The start to 2015 looks an awful lot like the end of 2014, when Milwaukee collapsed down the stretch. The Brewers led the NL Central by 1 1/2 games following a 10-1 win over San Diego on Aug. 25, 2014. Since then, they are just 11-32.
Milwaukee's latest setback followed what is becoming a familiar pattern. Starter Matt Garza struggled for six innings and the offense did little to help out. The Brewers have just three home runs on the year, or the same total the Pirates managed over the course of the weekend.
Roenicke stressed he doesn't think his team is losing confidence in itself, at least not yet.
"I don't think they feel that way right now but I think that can happen the longer this goes on," he said.
Jonathan Lucroy had two of Milwaukee's six hits, only two of which came after the second inning. Garza (1-2) gave up five runs in six innings, including a solo home run to Pedro Alvarez in the third and a two-run single to Chris Stewart in the sixth one batter after Garza drilled Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer in the chest with a fastball.
Mercer was attempting to square up a bunt but instead needed to be helped off the field with what he later called a bruise. Stewart, in his first start since returning from a strained hamstring, then laced a two-run single that broke open a close game.
"I wanted him to put the ball down," Garza said. "I wanted him to bunt the ball. It's an out instead of putting two on and it led to a big inning, two runs."
The Pirates began the series hitting just .207 as a team, the lowest in the National League. That number improved to .222 after a weekend in which Pittsburgh had little trouble with a team that long tormented the Pirates. Milwaukee went 88-43 against Pittsburgh from 2007-14 but the Pirates have won five of the first six meetings this season.
Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole (2-0) had issues spotting his breaking pitches early. He opted to stick to a fastball that topped out at 99 mph over his final four innings and the Brewers couldn't keep pace. Cole struck out six while improving to 13-6 at PNC Park.
"As we started to get deeper into the ballgame I started locating the fastball better and kind of kept them off balance," Cole said. "They didn't seem to be catching up to it much so I just stuck with it."
Garza has a simple idea on what will take the pressure off: relax.
"We just need to step back and let our ability start taking over instead of our mental side of 'Oh, I've got to make this happen, we've got to do this,'" Garza said. "Let's just do it, let's just play, start smiling again. It's not fun when you have to walk around (mad) all the time. It's a kid's game. We should be having a good time doing it."
Pirates: Pitcher Charlie Morton will likely make one more start in an extended spring training game before a decision is made on when he could return to Pittsburgh. Morton is recovering from hip surgery.
Brewers: Milwaukee begins a weeklong homestand on Monday when it starts a four-game set against Cincinnati. The Brewers went 9-10 against the Reds last season and haven't beaten Cincinnati in a season series since 2006. Wily Peralta is 3-3 with a 2.88 ERA in six starts versus the Reds.
Pirates: Pittsburgh opens a four-game series with the Chicago Cubs on Monday. The Pirates are 14-6 against the Cubs over the last two seasons at PNC Park. A.J. Burnett (0-1, 2.25 ERA) gets the start. Burnett is 7-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 13 career starts against Chicago.
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