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Sunday, May 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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NL Notebook: Life is still the pits for Pirates, and Tracy's in no mood to talk

Seattle Times staff reporter

It's an ugly situation in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates are heading toward their 14th straight losing season, and making the Royals look visionary in comparison.

With promising young pitchers such as Zach Duke, Oliver Perez and Ian Snell on the staff, and payroll increasing by $12 million with additions such as Sean Casey, Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa, hopes were actually high this year. But the first six weeks have been a disaster, and the fans that are left are starting to show their anger.

So is first-year manager Jim Tracy, who has been bristling over media second-guessing of his personnel moves.

"We're trying to make this group go as best we can," he told reporters. "You don't have a multitude of options."

Tracy was unhappy when reporters asked him about a play in Wednesday's loss to Arizona in which Burnitz appeared to dog it down the line in the eighth inning. Second baseman Orlando Hudson bobbled his grounder but was able to easily throw out Burnitz, who signed a $6.7 million, one-year contract in the offseason. Burnitz's average dropped to .186.

"I'm not going to nitpick," Tracy told reporters. "Jeromy Burnitz isn't the reason we lost the game."

True enough. The Pirates, ranking 29th in the majors in runs scored and 22nd in team earned-run average, have plenty of blame to go around.

• This is a new Rockies world. Entering the weekend, their relievers had given up just five home runs, the fewest in the major leagues, an amazing statistic considering the Rockies' history of incendiary pitching. Just two of those homers came in the eighth inning or later. Combined with a dynamic young offense, the Rockies' improved pitching gives hope that they can contend all year in the underwhelming National League West.

• The most intriguing Colorado reliever is right-hander Ramon Ramirez, who signed at age 16 with the Texas Rangers as an outfielder, was released, worked in a Coca-Cola bottling plant while learning how to pitch, signed with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan, caught the eye of the Yankees and signed with them in 2003, then came to Colorado last year in the Shawn Chacon trade last July.

Called up when Mike DeJean went on the DL, Ramirez has become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Through 10 games and 14 innings, he had a 0.00 ERA, giving up just six hits while striking out 19 and walking two. Opponents were hitting .128 off him.

• The Cubs' win over the Giants on Wednesday was big for those who believe in statistical omens. It snapped Chicago's eight-game losing streak, significant because no team since the advent of the eight-team playoff format in 1995 has ever reached the postseason after losing more than eight in a row.

Research by the Chicago Tribune revealed that nine teams have advanced with an eight-game losing streak at some point, including the 2005 Padres and the 2000 Giants, the latter managed by Dusty Baker.

It's a moot point, however. The anemic Cubs, helpless without injured Derrek Lee and still waiting for Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, aren't going anywhere.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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