By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 19, 2008 at 5:03 AM Photography: Allen Fredrickson
Here's a familiar tune: the Brewers are in last place in the National League Central Division.

The season-long malaise that has surrounded the team hit a new low following a three-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Sure, there were signs of life from the offense, but the fact remains that the Brewers now trail the Cubs by seven games.

Now what?

Standard practice dictates that general manager Doug Melvin turn to the farm system for help. Unfortunately, the pickings at Class AAA Nashville are fairly slim.

The team did summon a pair of relievers from the Sounds this weekend, bringing in Mark DiFelice and Zach Jackson to replace David Riske (injury) and Mitch Stetter, who developed an inability to throw strikes.

Aside from those DiFelice and Jackson, there's not much more that Melvin can do to improve the team from within. There was thought that the Brewers might call third baseman Russell Branyan up to serve as designated hitter during the interleague series against Boston, but that didn't happen.

While it would have been a good move statistically -- Branyan is walloping Pacific Coast League pitching -- it would have been difficult to add him to the 40-man roster and have him clear waivers in order to return to Nashville.

The same holds true for Matt LaPorta and Mat Gamel, who are tearing things up at Class AA Huntsville. Both would provide theoretically provide a punch to an otherwise lackluster lineup, but Yost - after discussion with Melvin -- decided to stick with what he's got.

"There's no such thing as 'energizing,'" Yost said over the weekend. "There's no magic potion or pill. It just turns around."

Things are even bleaker when you look at the team's pitching prospects. Chris Narveson was impressive in spring training, but is just 2-5 with a 4.26 ERA in nine starts.

Jeff Weaver has done little to warrant a return to the major leagues; the veteran right-hander has allowed 16 runs on 26 hits in 22 2/3 innings of work over his four starts.

 Any move that Melvin makes will have to be via a trade. And while many fans would like to see the GM deal Rickie Weeks, Bill Hall or J.J. Hardy for a No. 1 pitcher; there isn't a GM in the league that would agree to such a swap.

Few teams will be willing to concede their own season so soon by dealing one of their best players. Don't expect any deals to come until later in the summer, when the trade deadline draws near.

In the meantime, fans will have to "ride it out" with Yost and the players on hand.

Power surge: LF Ryan Braun started the season, like the rest of the Brewers hitters, somewhat slowly. While he didn't attribute his woes to the ongoing contract negotiations that culminated in an eight-year, $45 million deal on Thursday, he did concede that such dealings can be distracting.

"I think anybody who says that contract negotiations aren't a distraction is not telling the truth," Braun said. "It definitely comes into play. It definitely factors in."

Braun didn't suffer a let-down after signing his record eight-year, $45-million contract Thursday. Continuing his recent power surge and now leads the team with 13 home runs, 35 RBI, 14 doubles and 53 hits.

Braun, who has never suffered from a lack of confidence, also made some glaring comments following the Brewers' 11-7 loss to Boston Sunday.

"I almost felt like this series, we didn't expect to win," Braun told reporters after the game. "We were competing; I know everybody tried hard. But it's not about trying hard. You've got to expect to win.

"I almost feel like we never really expected to win any of these games. I just kind of had that feeling."

Weeks staying put: It's no secret that Rickie Weeks is having an awful season at the plate, but Yost has no plans to move the second baseman out of the leadoff spot anytime soon.

Weeks is batting .187 with a .315 on-base percentage; hardly the numbers of a prototypical top-of-the order guy. A lot of his hitting woes, Yost has said, are due more to a case of bad luck than anything else.

"Rickie's doing fine," Yost told reporter Adam McCalvy in Boston. "He's hitting the ball hard, he walking, he's taking pitches. His walks to strikeouts ratio is better than it's ever been. He's hitting in very bad luck."

Right-fielder Corey Hart batted leadoff during Weeks' injury last season, but Yost prefers to keep Hart at the No. 5 spot, where his power and hitting can lead to more RBI opportunities.

Welcome to the show: DiFelice's major-league debut came after a lengthy wait. He spent 11 years in the minor leagues -- including two stints in the independent Atlantic League -- before finally breaking through with the Brewers.

When he finally got into a game (Sunday at Boston), he became the third-oldest rookie in major league history at 31 years, 269 days.

The long-awaited first outing wasn't quite as successful as DiFelice had hoped; he surrendered three runs on five hits in an inning of work that included a two-run home run by David Ortiz.

Jackson likes new role: Jackson came to the Brewers as a highly-touted pitching prospect in the Lyle Overbay trade. He had occasional success as a starter, but couldn't perform with any sort of consistency.

After five appearances as a starter for Nashville, Jackson went 1-3 with an 8.89 ERA. Since moving to the bullpen, the left-hander has been far more effective; allowing just four runs in 12 1/3 innings of work.

The Brewers see the move to relief as a permanent change and Jackson feels as if he's found a calling of sorts. With the Brewers, he will take over the long-relief role from Seth McClung, who will in turn move to later-inning duty.

"I love it," Jackson said. "When they moved me to the bullpen, I embraced it."

Jackson last pitched for the Brewers in 2006, when he went 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA in eight appearances, one of them coming in relief. He made his first appearance Sunday against the Red Sox, allowing a hit and two walks in 1 2/3 innings.

Quick hits: C Jason Kendall has been hit by a pitch six times this season. ... The Brewers were 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position during Saturday's double-header and left all 21 of those runners stranded. ... Since earning the save Tuesday night against Los Angeles, RHP Eric Gagne has not appeared in a game. ... Milwaukee has lost nine straight road games and has been swept in two of its last three series away from Miller Park.

Injury report: RHP David Riske was placed on the 15-day disabled list after hyper-extending his elbow. ... LHP Chris Capuano underwent "Tommy John" surgery on Thursday to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. It is the second time Capuano has had the procedure.

On the farm: Nashville took three of four from New Orleans to draw within three games of first-place Memphis. ... Huntsville's 3-2 victory Wednesday gave manager Don Money the franchise record for victories. ... RHP Jeremy Jeffress made his season-debut with Class A Brevard County after returning from a 50-game suspension for marijuana use.

He said it: "We can't play like this for very long, as deep and talented as our division is. We're six weeks into it now." - Braun, after the Brewers were swept by the Red Sox.

This week: PNC Park in Pittsburgh has been nothing short of a house of horrors for the Brewers, who are just 20-42 there since the stadium opened in 2001. After an off-day Monday, they'll play three against the Pirates before traveling to Washington D.C. for four games at the Nationals' new ballpark.

N.L. Central Standings (through games Sunday): 1, Chicago, 27-17; 2, 26-20 (-2.0); 3, Houston, 25-20 (-2.5); 4, Cincinnati, 21-23 (-6.0); 5, Pittsburgh, 21-23 (-6.0); 6, Milwaukee, 20-24 (-7.0).