The Pittsburgh Pirates put their recent four-game skid behind them as they put a beat down on the Cardinals by a score of 9-3 on Friday night. Everything stood out and went well for the Pirates in the series opener, as starter J.A. Happ continued his dominant ways, tossing seven innings of three-hit, no-run ball. He also threw eight strikeouts and didn’t issue a walk, and could have gone longer were it not for his high pitch count when he was removed. Happ couldn’t complain about the offensive support he received, as the Pirates scored nine runs on 17 hits, attacking Cardinals’ starter Carlos Martinez, who came into the game with a 2.91 ERA and left with an ERA over three.
The Pirates jumped on Martinez early, scoring a pair of runs off of him in the first inning. Jung Ho Kang got that scoring started, singling to right, scoring Gregory Polanco. Kang was not in the lineup in the final game against the Brewers on Thursday, yet still had a pinch-hit RBI single late in that game, as he continues to warrant his place in the starting lineup. Starling Marte would double that lead on a single to left, and the Pirates would lead 2-0 after the first.
Marte would strike again in the fifth with a two-run double, making the score 4-0 Pirates. Marte needed a big game, as he had recently been through an 0-17 stretch that ended late in the Brewers’ series. The Pirates would lead 5-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, but the Cardinals always find a way to make things interesting. Rookie Stephen Piscotty doubled, scoring one and making the score 5-1, but the Pirates would quickly answer with a four-run ninth. Sean Rodriguez, Jordy Mercer, and everyone’s favorite brawler Travis Snider would each contribute a big hit in that inning. These three may very well be contributors on the bench down the stretch, especially Rodriguez and Snider, so getting big hits from them is a big postive moving forward.
The Cardinals would plate two against reliever Jared Hughes in the bottom half of the ninth, but the Pirates would still seal the 9-3 victory in what many had called a must-win game heading into the series.
What Stood Out
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J.A. Happ is not losing a starting spot when A.J. Burnett returns, that’s for certain. Happ’s posted a 1.57 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP since coming to the Pirates, which is a far cry from the 4.64 ERA and 1.41 WHIP he posted with the Mariners this season. Happ is also making a case for the fourth starter spot in the postseason should the Pirates reach the NLDS and beyond. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates consider bringing back Happ this offseason, especially if he continues to pitch well throughout September. After all, he’d be an upgrade over Jeff Locke at the back-end of the rotation.
Andrew McCutchen continues to put himself squarely in the NL MVP discussion with his recent hot play. After winning the NL Player of the Month award for August, Cutch has posted a .300/.462/.400 mark in the first few days of September, including a 2-4 night with a walk against the Cardinals. If the Nationals and the Giants don’t make the postseason, it’s hard to think McCutchen doesn’t get serious consideration for that MVP award.
The series continues on Saturday as the Pittsburgh Pirates (80-53) take on the St. Louis Cardinals (86-48) at 4:05 PM. In seemingly another must-win game, the Pirates will trot out Charlie Morton (8-6, 4.22 ERA) to face Cardinal ace Jaime Garcia (7-4, 2.03 ERA), the latter of whom would be squarely in the NL Cy Young discussion if he hadn’t missed all of April and most of May. Morton is coming off of a couple rough outings, allowing three earned runs and four earned runs, respectively, in each of his last two starts.