Hope for the NL Central dashed as Pittsburgh Pirates split doubleheader

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Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter (13) and center fielder Jon Jay (19) and shortstop Jhonny Peralta (27) wait to greet right fielder Jason Heyward (22) after Heyward hit a grand slam home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Morton was handed the ball in the game that would determine whether or not the Pittsburgh Pirates had a chance of overtaking the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and quickly put any possibility of that to rest, getting knocked out of the second game of the doubleheader after just two innings of work. The Cardinals pounced on the Pirates’ starter for five runs and added more off the bullpen as they coasted to an 11-1 win. The loss mathematically puts the division title out of reach and now the Pirates will focus on securing home field for the NL Wild Card game next Wednesday.

Carpenter started the game off with a triple and it pretty much went downhill from there. Morton followed that up by hitting Jon Jay. Jhonny Peralta grounded into a double play to score Carpenter and then Jason Heyward got on base with a single and came around to score the second run of the game when Matt Adams doubled to right field, giving the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Carpenter opened the frame with a double and then Morton hit Jay again to put him on base. After he walked Peralta, Clint Hurdle had seen enough and brought the lefty Bobby LaFromboise in to face Heyward who connected for a grand slam to put the Cardinals up 6-0. After LaFromboise, Joe Blanton pitched innings four through six and did not give up any runs.

This trend was short-lived after Arquimedes Caminero came in for the seventh and walked Jay who moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Peralta. Things did not get any better once Vance Worley entered the game, as he gave up a double to Kolten Wong before walking both Carpenter and Jay. Peralta followed that up with a two-run single to knock Worley out of the game. Rob Scahill came in and successfully recorded the last out of the inning without letting anyone get on base.

In the eighth inning the Pirates finally got a run when Mercer grounded out but Michael Morse was able to score. In the ninth, Scahill gave that run back and one more for good measure, serving up a two-run shot to backup catcher Tony Cruz. The Pirates went quietly in the ninth, putting an end to an ugly nightcap of the doubleheader.

What Stood Out

The second game of the doubleheader was almost the exact opposite of the first, as all but one Pittsburgh pitcher gave up at least one run . Any hope of using the momentum from the big win just hours before was gone after the first few innings. Morton has been one of the most inconsistent pitchers on the staff this year, and tonight’s start was an excellent example of how fast things can get out of hand for him. At this point he has to be in serious danger of being left off of the postseason roster because there is no way he will be called upon to start a game if the Pirates can get past the Cubs.

More from Pirates News

Speaking of the Cubs, while this loss may be disappointing because it means the Pirates will not win the division, they now must focus on the upcoming NL Wild Card game on Wednesday. The Cubs will almost certainly put Jake Arrieta on the mound, a familiar foe for the Pirates as they have seen him multiple times in the last month. The loss in the second game on Wednesday stings and is somewhat concerning, but at the end of the day all teams go through losses like this. Unfortunately the Pirates went through a bad loss like this when their backs were up against the wall.

What’s Next

The Pirates will begin the final series of the 2015 season on Friday against the Reds. Francisco Liriano will make his final regular season start against Keyvius Sampson. Liriano won his last two starts, coming against the Cubs and the Dodgers. He pitched a combine 14.2 innings in those games and had a 18:5 K:BB ratio. Sampson got slammed in his last start against the Mets, lasting just 2 2/3 innings while surrendering five runs (two earned).

Next: Have the Pittsburgh Pirates seen enough to re-sign J.A. Happ