The Pirates can’t get timely hits and drop 2 of 3 to the Reds in Cincinnati. Read on for a recap and some analysis:
Winning Pitcher: Ryan Vogelsong (1-0)
Losing Pitcher: J.J. Hoover (0-1)
Save: Mark Melancon (2)
Starling Marte was the hero on a night when it was obvious that Francisco Liriano didn’t have his best stuff. In the end the Pirates did just enough to come away as the victors in this one. The Reds got on the board early when Eugenio Suarez scored on a Joey Votto groundout and Brandon Phillips, illness no longer bothering him, hit a solo Home Run that gave the home team a 2-0 lead. The Pirates added a run when Liriano, continuing his recent batting prowess, doubled home Jordy Mercer. Other than that, the Pirates did not really have an answer for Reds starter Alfredo Simon, who finished his night with seven strikeouts over 5 innings, giving up only 5 hits and 1 earned run. Liriano, despite not having his best outing, never let the Reds get a big inning, getting out of a couple jams thanks to double plays. When Liriano turned the ball over to Ryan Vogelsong after 5 innings it was only 3-2 Reds. Vogelsong proceeded to begin to let the game get away from the Pirates though, giving up 2 runs in his 2 innings of work, with the second coming off a wild pitch. Vogelsong was bailed out by the Pirates bats in the top of the Eighth though. With two outs, John Jaso, Andrew McCutchen, and David Freese were all able to reach base to bring Marte up with the bases loaded. Marte then launched a 1-0 pitch 406 feet for his first career Grand Slam to give the Pirates their first Home Run of the year and the lead. Neftali Feliz and Mark Melancon then finished out the win for the Pirates relatively uneventfully with the only drama coming on a leaping catch by McCutchen with one out in the bottom of the Ninth.
Winning Pitcher: Raisel Iglesias (1-0)
Losing Pitcher: Gerrit Cole (0-1)
The Pirates out-hit the Reds 10-8 in Game Two of the series, but left 9 on base and fell 5-1 for their first loss of the season. Gerrit Cole’s woes against Cincinnati continued in a rocky first start of the season. Cole reached 100 pitches in only 4.2 innings of work and gave up three runs, all earned. Meanwhile, the Pirates loaded the bases in the Fourth and Sixth innings, but only managed one run in the Sixth. This represented the only run of the day for the Pirates. Hurting the Pirates was hitting into three double plays. Despite this, they were able to keep it close until the Seventh inning when Eugenio Suarez hit a 2-run Home Run to give the Reds a 5-1 lead for what would prove to be the final runs of the game.
Winning Pitcher: Ross Ohlendorf (2-0)
Losing Pitcher: Arquimedes Caminero (0-1)
Anthony DeSclafani was scheduled to come off the Disabled List and make his first start of the season for the Reds, but a setback in his recovery prevented that from happening. Instead Tim Melville made his first career start against Jeff Locke. Melville looked every bit the rookie in the first inning, loading the bases on three walks. However, he was able to induce a ground out from Josh Harrison to end the inning. Melville only lasted 4 innings, walking 4 and giving up 5 hits on 92 pitches. One of the 5 hits he gave up was a solo shot from Chris Stewart in the Second inning, hitting only his 9th career Home Run and his first as a Pirate. Despite Melville’s less than stellar debut, the Pirates were unable to make him or any other Reds pitcher pay, going 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position on the day. Additionally, the Pirates topped themselves from the previous day by stranding 14 runners. Eugenio Suarez tied the game at 1-1 with a solo Home Run in the Sixth inning off of Jeff Locke. The Pirates nearly took the lead in the Eighth inning when John Jaso got the only Pirate hit of the day with a runner in scoring position. However, Josh Harrison was thrown out at the plate on a play that was upheld on a challenge. The Reds won the game in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the Ninth when a Jay Bruce line drive landed just fair down the Right Field line and zipped into the corner. By the time the Pirates could get the ball to Stewart, Brandon Phillips had already scored from First Base to give the Reds victory.
Pirate of the Series: Starling Marte
After having a slow start to the season in the opening series against the Cardinals, Marte rebounded and is the Pirate of the Series. Marte obviously hit the game-winning Grand Slam, the first of his career, in the series opener. In retrospect, if not for that the Pirates would have been victim to another early season sweep at Great American Ballpark. Marte also had the most hits for the Pirates in this series, collecting 5 in 13 at bats. Additionally, after some adventures in the field against St. Louis, Marte went without an error in the series and even collected his first assist of the season when he threw Joey Votto out at Third Base in the Fifth inning of the second game. He also added his first two Stolen Bases of the season during the series.
Overall, this was generally a series to forget for the Pirates. Even if he had not had the best stats on the team, Marte deserves Pirate of the Series simply for delivering what was probably the only moment of joy for many Pirate’s fans during this trip to Cincinnati. The Grand Slam is always a big play and for Marte to hit the first of his career at such an opportune time should be especially memorable for him, as well as the fans. Though many of you, myself included, will want to just forget this series, we can always remember that awesome hit on that cold Friday night in Cincinnati.
The Pirates struggles in Cincinnati continued with the Pirates now 8-14 in games at Great American Ballpark since 2014. This is of course despite the Reds having losing records each of the last two seasons, with them expected to continue the trend this year, and the Pirates being among the best teams in baseball. For whatever reason, Cincinnati has given the Pirates fits in recent years. Hopefully the Pirates can reverse this trend and win more when they return May 9-11 and September 16-18.
The Pirates left 34 runners on base during the series. That averages out to more than a runner per inning (1.26) and 11.3 per game. Also, the Pirates went a combined 5 for 35 with runners in scoring position. If you want to point to a single reason the Pirates lost this series, it would be the inability to get timely hits when runners are on base. The flip side of this of course is that the Pirates did well enough to get those runners on in the first place. Another day, maybe the Pirates can bring a few of those runners in and steal a win.
David Freese has been striking out entirely too much. So far he has recorded a strikeout in every game this season. He has a total of 11 on the season and has a Strikeout rate of 43.5%. This number is much too high for any player and is significantly higher than his career rate of 22.1% and the 22.8% rate he had in 2015 with the Angels. One would expect his strikeout rate to regress back to those levels, but that’s no guarantee. In the meantime, this makes things harder for Andrew McCutchen batting ahead of him in the lineup. If Freese continues to strikeout at such a high rate, pitchers are not going to give McCutchen much to hit.
Chris Stewart has never been mistaken for a power hitter during his career. However, I hadn’t realized that the Catcher, now in his third season with the Pirates, had yet to hit a Home Run since joining the club. That changed in the series finale when he hit a solo shot in the Second inning to give the Pirates the lead. In addition to being the first of his Pirate career, it was only his 9th career Home Run overall. Just for fun: The last time Chris Stewart hit a Home Run, on August 20, 2013, PNC Park had yet to host a playoff game, Andrew McCutchen and Jordy Mercer are the only active Pirates who were actually in the starting lineup for them that day, and Pedro Alvarez had committed an error (I guess some things don’t change). Another fun fact: Chris Stewart’s first career Home Run came on August 9, 2011 when he was a member of the San Francisco Giants, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I feel like I should just mention that Jordy Mercer made some spectacular plays in the field during the Fifth inning of the Series opener. First, he was able to field a Eugenio Suarez chopper that deflected off of David Freese’s glove near Third Base in the Outfield grass and throw it across the diamond to get the out at First Base. Later in the inning with Brandon Phillips running from Second on a full count with two outs, Mercer barehanded a groundball that had deflected off of Freese’s foot and nailed Brandon Phillips at home. These were not only spectacular plays in the field from Mercer, but they impacted the outcome of the game. Though the Freese deflection was lucky that the ball went right to him, he still needed to execute to get Phillips out at home. If Mercer hadn’t made either play, it’s likely the Reds would have gotten at least one run in that inning of what would end up being a 1-run game.
Some Pirate fans may be in full on panic mode after dropping two of three to the Reds and leaving so many runners in scoring position. I’m going to tell those people to relax, it’s only one series. There seems to be a tendency to extrapolate based on a small set of data, in this case one series. Just to remind everyone: The games in this series represents less than 2% of the season, the Pirates were never going to go 162-0, and the Pirates will get hits with runners in scoring position. I feel I should also remind everyone that the Pirates had just swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the previous series, and currently have a 4-2 record. If one must extrapolate from a small amount of data, winning 4 out of every 6 games would give the Pirates a final record of 108-54. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that.
Series Result: Cincinnati Reds win 2-1
Season Record: 4-2 (3rd in NL Central)
Series Record: 1-1
Prediction Result: Incorrect prediction of Pirates series win (0-2)
Next up: The Pirates play four games against the Tigers with the first two in Detroit and the latter two in Pittsburgh