Pittsburgh Pirates “Sweep” the Rockies


The Pittsburgh Pirates take every game in a shortened series in Colorado. Read on for a recap and analysis:

Game One:

Winning Pitcher: Jeff Locke (1-2)

Losing Pitcher: Chad Bettis (2-1)

Save: A.J. Schugel (1) 

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On a night when the Pittsburgh Pirates needed it most, Jeff Locke turned in a great performance and picked up his first win of the season. Locke went six shutout innings, struck out 8, and only gave up 5 hits against the Rockies. Though Locke kept the Rockies batters in check, through the first 4 innings his counterpart, Chad Bettis did the same with the Pirates’ batters. The Pirates finally broke through in the Fifth inning, pushing a run across when Josh Harrison scored from Third base on a John Jaso ground out. The score was still 1-0 in the Seventh inning when the Pirates broke the game open. Gregory Polanco led off the inning with a single off of Bettis, but Harrison and Jordy Mercer, while able to advance him one base each, flied out and grounded out. Bettis then issued back-to-back walks to pinch hitter Jason Rogers and Jaso and threw a wild pitch during Jaso’s plate appearance to score Polanco to make it 2-0. With that Bettis’ was taken out of the game to be replaced by reliever Scott Oberg. Matt Joyce, filling in for Andrew McCutchen who was given the night off, promptly hit a 3-run Home Run to give the Pirates a 5-0 lead. The Rockies got on the board with their only run of the game during the home half of the Seventh and the Pirates added another in the Eighth. A.J. Schugel came on in the Seventh inning with two runners on and the Pirates up 5-1 and finished out the game. Because the tying run was on deck when he entered the game Schugel picked up a 7 out save.

Game Two:

Winning Pitcher: Gerrit Cole (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Jorge De La Rosa (1-3)

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

After being given the night off in the first game of the series, Andrew McCutchen returned in a big way, hitting 3 Home Runs in the Pirates 9-4 victory. McCutchen opened the scoring with his first Home Run in the top of the First inning when he hit a solo shot to make it 1-0. David Freese hit his first Home Run of the season in the very next at-bat to make it 2-0. Later in the inning Josh Harrison singled in Francisco Cervelli to make it 3-0 Pirates before the Rockies even took a turn to bat. McCutchen hit Home Run number two the very next inning when he hit another solo Home Run to make it 4-0 Pirates. From there the Rockies began chipping away at the Pirates lead, scoring single runs in the Second and Fourth inning, the second coming off a Nolan Arenado Home Run. In the Fifth inning, Gerrit Cole ran into trouble, loading the bases with only one out. He managed to get Carlos Gonzalez to strike out, but gave up a run-scoring single to Arenado that cut the Rockies deficit to one run. On Arenado’s hit, Gerardo Parra attempted to tie the game by scoring from Second base, but Starling Marte was able to throw him out at home to end the inning. The Pirates wouldn’t let the Rockies get any closer as Andrew McCutchen hit Home Run number three in the next inning a 3-run shot that put the Pirates up 7-3. Marte added another run later in the inning with a solo Home Run of his own, the Pirates’ fifth of the game, to make it 8-3. The Rockies added a single run in the home half of the Sixth, but that would be it for Colorado as Arquimedes Caminero, Neftali Feliz, and Rob Scahill pitched a hitless inning each out of the bullpen. Gregory Polanco added another run for the Pirates in the Ninth when he singled to score Cervelli to provide the final score of 9-4.

Game Three:

Winning Pitcher: Kyle Lobstein (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Carlos Estevez (0-1)

Save: Mark Melancon (5)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, the Pirates built up a big lead only to blow it, but still pulled it out in extra innings. The Pirates did this for the second time this week, the other coming on Sunday against the Diamondbacks, as they defeated the Rockies in 12 innings. Jon Niese kept the Rockies off the board through the first three innings and the offense raced out to a 7-0 lead through the top of the Fourth. The Rockies responded by scoring 4 runs in the bottom of the Fourth to get right back in the game. They added a run in the Sixth inning before Gregory Polanco added what would be an important run in the form of a solo Home Run in the Pirates’ half of the Seventh to make it 8-5. The Rockies made it a one run game when Mark Reynolds hit a 2-run Home Run in the bottom of the Seventh. They would tie the game to force extra innings off a Gerardo Parra Home Run in the Eighth inning, their fourth of the game. Kyle Lobstein came on in the bottom of the Ninth and pitched three shutout innings, but the Pirates offense was also shutout over the same time frame. However, with two outs in the top of the 12th and Polanco on First base, Jordy Mercer delivered. Mercer smashed a double to the Right Center Field wall and Polanco came around to score the go-ahead run. Mark Melancon came on for the extra inning save and after getting Nick Hundley to line out to start the inning, gave up back-to-back walks to put the potential winning run on base. He was able to force a ground out and got Trevor Story to strike out to give the Pirates victory after a long night.

Game Four: Postponed

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Pittsburgh Pirate of the Series: Andrew McCutchen

I did not anticipate having to wait so long to bestow this honor on Andrew McCutchen, but his slow start coupled with great efforts from a variety of sources on this team caused the delay. McCutchen was actually given the night off during the first game of the series. This break was likely to give him a chance to take a step back and clear his head after his struggles in the series in Arizona and prior. Whether this had anything to do with what happened after is debatable. But his performance in the two games he played in the series is likely indicative of what we should expect to see from Cutch as a whole this season.

Pittsburgh Pirates Outfielder Andrew McCutchen
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Overall, McCutchen went 5 for 10 in this series, striking out only once and drawing a walk. Of course, three of those hits were his Home Runs from his fantastic performance in the second game of the series. Of the remaining hits, one was for a double in the third game of the series. Mostly it was just nice to see McCutchen breakout in a big way. The night off was likely something McCutchen needed and it certainly didn’t hurt that he had the benefit getting a couple of games in a field that is as notoriously as hitter-friendly as Coors Field.

Takeaways, Observations, and other Random Thoughts

Cutch’s Slump Over?

So the question now is, does his three Home Run outburst mean that McCutchen’s slump is over? One never wants to draw conclusions from any one baseball game, but I believe it’s likely that this will be the case. Still, this will be something to watch during the Reds series this weekend. McCutchen’s BABIP is still a low .276, but it’s starting to rebound back to normal. This should continue and McCutchen will start turning in performances like in this past series on a more normal basis.

Jeff Locke Delivers

Jeff Locke has had, to put it nicely, a rough start to the season. After his most recent start, there was much talk of Locke being moved to the bullpen. While the Pirates had said that there were no plans for this, Locke undoubtedly was feeling the pressure. To put even more pressure on Locke, his start came the night after the Pirates had played their marathon game against the Diamondbacks had depleted the bullpen. Locke could have helped the Pirates out a great deal by turning in a quality start. Locke rose to the occasion, striking out 8 over 6 innings without giving up a run. Locke also only walked 2, which ties his season low that he had in his first start (which also lasted 6 innings). Also encouraging was Locke lasting the six innings he did, longer than both his previous starts, neither of which lasted 5 innings. It remains to be seen if Locke can replicate this with consistency, and given his history, I wouldn’t expect this.

Postponement Benefits Pirates

The postponement of the final game of the series benefits that Pirates. After playing two extra-inning games in the past four games, their bullpen, already with the second-most innings pitched in MLB (84.1), needs a break. The team as a whole can probably use a rest too at the end of a long western road trip. This is also one less game for Jung Ho Kang and Jared Hughes to miss before their imminent return from the Disabled List. While it was disappointing that we all had to go a day without Pirates baseball, in the short run this should benefit the Pirates.

Series Semantics

One thing I thought of after the final game was cancelled was whether we can call this a series sweep. While the Pirates won all the games that they played in Colorado this time around, the final game will presumably be made up at some point. If the Pirates win that game, can this retroactively be declared a series sweep? If they lose it is it not, or is that single contest a one game series? Does this matter? Does anyone care? Probably not. At the end of the day the Pirates won three games and lost none in Colorado and went 6-3 on the road trip.

Series Result: Pirates win 3-0, 1 game unplayed

Season Record: 13-9

Series Record: 4-3

Prediction Result: Incorrectly predicted a series tied (1-6)

Next up: The Pirates return back to PNC Park for a weekend series with the Reds.