The Pittsburgh Pirates win series with the Reds, but just miss out on the sweep. Read on for a recap and analysis:
Game One: Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates
Winning Pitcher: Juan Nicasio (3-2)
Losing Pitcher: Dan Straily (0-1)
Save: Mark Melancon (6)
Juan Nicasio looked dominant in the series opener, going 7 scoreless innings and striking out 8 while only giving up 3 hits. Nicasio was also efficient, throwing only 97 pitches to average less than 14 pitches an inning. Nicasio’s counterpart for the Reds, Dan Straily was nearly as effective giving up only 5 hits over his 6 innings pitched. The Pirates however, were able to get on the board in the Third and Fourth innings. In the Third inning, David Freese singled to score Jordy Mercer from Second base. Then in the Fourth inning, Josh Harrison hit his first Home Run of the season to make it 2-0 Pirates. They were able to double their lead in the Seventh inning when Matt Joyce, pinch-hitting for Nicasio, hit a 2-run Home Run to make it 4-0. Tony Watson pitched a scoreless Eighth, but Arquimedes Caminero ran into trouble in the Ninth inning, allowing a run to score after Tucker Barnhart doubled with Brandon Phillips on Second base. Mark Melancon was brought in and got the one out save in only two pitches.
Winning Pitcher: Francisco Liriano (2-1)
Losing Pitcher: Alfredo Simon (0-3)
Save: Mark Melancon (7)
Francisco Liriano picked up his first win since opening day, going 6.2 innings, striking out 6 and walking none on only 5 hits. The Pirates had taken a 1-0 lead when John Jaso hit his first Home Run of the season to lead-off the bottom of the First. Not much happened until the Fifth inning when the Reds tied the game off a Zack Cozart double to score Billy Hamilton. The Pirates promptly retook the lead in the home half of the inning. David Freese led off the inning with a single followed by Starling Marte being hit by a pitch. Francisco Cervelli gave the Pirates the lead with a single to chase Alfredo Simon. The Pirates added another run later in the inning when Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly. The Reds threatened in the Seventh inning, putting runners on First and Second bases with two outs, but Neftali Feliz came in and got Cozart to fly out to end the threat. The Reds put runners on First and Second bases with two outs again in the Ninth inning, but Mark Melancon came on and got the one out save again, this time striking out Cozart. The Pirates had also added to their lead in the Eighth inning when Sean Rodriguez hit a 2-run Home Run.
Winning Pitcher: Blake Wood (3-0)
Losing Pitcher: Ryan Vogelsong (1-1)
The Pirates fought back from deficits three times, but it ultimately wasn’t enough as they lost their first extra inning game of the season and saw their 6 game winning streak come to an end. Both starters, Jeff Locke for the Pirates and Tim Adleman, filling in for the injured Raisel Iglesias, for the Reds looked good, not allowing a run through the first four innings of the game. Gregory Polanco opened the scoring with a solo Home Run that reached the Allegheny River. However, the Reds took the lead in the Sixth inning when they tagged Locke for 3 runs. It could have been worse though, as with the game tied at 1 with the bases loaded, Jay Bruce doubled to score two runs, but the final out of the inning was recorded when Brandon Phillips was thrown out at Home trying to make it 4-1. The Pirates were able to tie the game in the Seventh inning when Sean Rodriguez tripled to score Starling Marte and then he scored himself when Matt Joyce later singled. The Reds were able to retake the lead when the Pirates defense gave Jared Hughes no help in his first appearance since returning from the Disabled List. Zack Cozart led off the inning by reaching Second base on a Polanco error. Tyler Holt, pinch running for Cozart, later scored on an error by Chris Stewart. The Reds had scored despite Hughes not giving up a hit in the inning. The Pirates were able to tie it again in the home half of the inning, but the Reds once again took the lead in the Ninth when Scott Schebler doubled to score Adam Duvall. In the bottom of the Ninth, John Jaso was the temporary hero when he tied the game with the Pirates down to their final out with a solo Home Run. Ryan Vogelsong pitched a 1-2-3 10th inning and the Pirates were in a good position to win the game with runners on First and Second bases with only one out. However, Jordy Mercer and Sean Rodriguez stuck out back-to-back and the Reds took the lead in the 11th inning when Scott Schebler once again hit a run-scoring double. There would be no final comeback as the Pirates went quietly in the bottom of the 11th.
Pirate of the Series: Josh Harrison
This was an incredibly difficult decision for this series as the Pirates got important contributions from a variety of sources. I considered giving it to John Jaso for his two Home Runs, but those were the only hits he got in the series. I also considered Starling Marte who’s four hits over the series were a team high. Finally, I had considered Matt Joyce for going 3 for 3 with a Home Run over the series, but I decided in the end that he should have started at least one of the games to be considered. I decided on Josh Harrison because of this decent stats in the series, his first Home Run of the season, and because of the fact that he also was the only player to start and get a hit in every game.
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Overall, J-Hay went 3 for 11 in the series, getting one hit in every game. Most notable of those hits is of course his first Home Run of the season in the series opener. Harrison has never been one to hit a lot of Home Runs, with only 25 in his career and 13 of them coming from his breakout 2014 season. However, he’s off to a good start to the season overall, slashing .333/.367/.444 and it’s nice to see him get a Home Run added. Harrison will also likely not hit the ball overall at the rate that he has through the first month over the course of the whole season, but he might be making some Pirates’ fans forget about Neil Walker (At least until the first time the Pirates play the Mets).
Takeaways, Observations, and other Random Thoughts
McCutchen Still Struggling
Many, myself included, had believed and hoped that Andrew McCutchen’s slump was over after his three Home Run night in Colorado. Unfortunately, he followed that up by going 1 for 12 with 4 strikeouts over the three games against the Reds. The Pirates record currently stands at 15-10, but they are 3 games out of first in the NL Central. If the Pirates are going to break the Wild Card Game curse and actually win the division, they are going to need Cutch to play better. With the Cubs coming to town this week, now would be a good time for this to happen.
Juan Nicasio Looking Good
Juan Nicasio pitched what may have been the best game by a Pirates starter this season in the series opener. It was also only the second time all season that a Pirates starter went 7 innings in a game. Many are assuming that Nicasio will eventually end up in the bullpen when Jameson Taillon comes to Pittsburgh. I’m among those that believe this and I also think that he will be an excellent addition to the bullpen when that time comes. However, he has shown that he is capable of producing starts like this, so he will serve well as a spot starter/long reliever when the time comes. Additionally, if he continues to give starts like Friday’s he may be able to delay his exit from the rotation until Tyler Glasnow joins the team, presumably sometime after Taillon.
Consequences of Not Completing the Sweep
The loss in the series finale was disappointing, particularly given the season high four errors by the team, two of which contributed to a Reds run. There are two ways of looking at this result. The first, the Pirates had won six in a row and taking 2 of 3 from any series is nothing to be mad about. The other though, is that the Reds were a bad team and the Pirates blew a close game that they maybe should have won and every game matters when the division may only be decided by a game or two. I tend to be on the more optimistic side and find myself agreeing with the former statement generally, but the latter does creep into my mind from time to time. The frustrating thing about baseball (or at least one frustrating thing) is that there are so many games over the season, but the difference between first and second place or making and missing the playoffs is often very narrow. Because of that, one never knows when games like this may come back to haunt a team. To get past this, I try to convince myself that stuff like this evens out over a season and every team has multiple games they wish they could have back.
Matt Joyce Continues to Impress
Matt Joyce has once again shown to be an excellent signing by the Pirates front office. He has provided a valuable bat off the bench with 3 Home Runs on the season despite getting few starts. He once again showed his value in this past series despite not getting a start. In his 3 pinch hit plate appearances this weekend, he went 3 for 3 with a Home Run. Additionally, I’ve said it many times and I’ll continue to say it, but should any of the starting Outfielders need to go on the Disabled List this season, it’s good to know that Joyce can fill in for the duration rather than a less desirable option, such as Sean Rodriguez (though he too is off to a surprisingly good start). None of the starters are in any danger of Joyce taking their position from them on an everyday basis, nor should they be, but Joyce has proven to be a fantastic fourth outfielder for this team.
Series Result: Pirates win 2-1
Season Record: 15-10 (2nd in NL Central)
Series Record: 5-3
Prediction Result: Correctly predicted a Pirates series win (2-6)
Next up: The Pirates welcome the Chicago Cubs to PNC Park for the first time since last season’s Wild Card Game