The Pittsburgh Pirates win their second series of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals and go to 5-1 on the season against their NL Central rival. Read on for recaps and some analysis:
Winning Pitcher: Francisco Liriano (3-1)
Losing Pitcher: Carlos Martinez (4-2)
Save: Mark Melancon (8)
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano turned in his second good start in a row, giving up only 2 Earned Runs over 7 innings pitched while striking out 10 and only giving up 5 hits. Despite this, it was Jung Ho Kang’s night as he returned from a lengthy absence with a bang, hitting 2 Home Runs, which contributed to 3 of the Pirates 4 runs on the night. Before Kang had even hit his first Home Run though, the Pirates took the lead on a Josh Harrison infield single that scored Starling Marte from Third base. The Cardinals stayed in the game though, despite starter Carlos Martinez struggling. When Martinez was removed from the game in the Fourth inning for what was called fatigue it was actually to the benefit of the Cardinals. His replacement, Tyler Lyons had no trouble against the Pirates’ hitter, striking out 7 over 3.2 innings. However, he did give up Kang’s 2-run Home Run in the Sixth inning, but other than that looked stellar. The Cardinals got on the board in the Seventh inning on a bizzare sequence that saw a Francisco Liriano pitch bounce in the dirt very far in front of Catcher Francisco Cervelli, who blocked it only to have it ricochet towards the dugout on the First Base line. Randal Grichuk was able to come all the way around from Second base to score off of that. The Cardinals made it a one run game when Ruben Tejada hit a sacrifice fly to score Aledmys Diaz. Kang was able to provide the Pirates with some breathing room though with his second Home Run in the Eighth and the Pirates took the first game of the series 4-2.
Winning Pitcher: Trevor Rosenthal (1-1)
Losing Pitcher: A.J. Schugel (0-1)
Both starting pitchers in this one, Jeff Locke for the Pirates and Adam Wainwright for the Cardinals, looked shaky early, with each giving up two runs in the first inning, only to generally shut down opposing hitters after that. Locke only gave up two hits after the First inning. Unfortunately, one of them was a solo Home Run by Stephen Piscotty in the Third inning. The Cardinals held a 3-2 lead for much of the game, until the Pirates tied it in the Seventh inning when John Jaso singled home Matt Joyce. However the Cardinals retook the lead in the Eighth inning when Randal Grichuk singled in Piscotty. Down 4-3 the Pirates looked to score at least a run to force extra innings going into the Ninth inning. David Freese led off the inning by reaching on a throwing error from Shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Jaso then drew a walk to put runners on First and Second bases. By now the Pirates weren’t just looking to tie the game, but to take the lead. Unfortunately the promising beginning to the inning seemed to fizzle away when Andrew McCutchen struck out, followed by Gregory Polanco grounding into a fielder’s choice that put runners on the corners. With two outs, Starling Marte could still tie the game with a hit and he delivered with a rocket to left center field. Unfortunately, the ball barely bounced over the fence for a ground rule double meaning that Polanco, who almost certainly would have scored otherwise, had to hold up at Third base. Francisco Cervelli was unable to be the hero though and the Cardinals took their turn in the bottom of the Ninth. A.J. Schugel was brought on in relief and promptly gave up an infield single to Diaz. Though Jeremy Hazelbaker flied out, notorious Pirate-killer Matt Carpenter came up and became the hero. Carpenter sent a 1-2 pitch deep to Right Field that cleared the wall for a walk-off 2-run Home Run to give the Cardinals their first win against the Pirates on the year.
Winning Pitcher: Gerrit Cole (3-3)
Losing Pitcher: Michael Wacha (2-3)
Save: Mark Melancon (9)
Both starters in this one generally kept the other team in check through the first 4 innings, with the only blemish for either was Gerrit Cole surrendering a run-scoring double to Brandon Moss in the Third inning. The Pirates were able to break through in the Fifth inning though when Chris Stewart doubled home Jordy Mercer to tie the game, then John Jaso brought Stewart and himself home with a 2-run Home Run to give the Pirates the lead. David Freese added to the Pirates lead by singling home Starling Marte in the Sixth inning to make it 4-1. Jeremy Hazelbaker got the Cardinals another run with a solo Home Run in the home half of the Sixth, but the Pirates scored what would prove to be the winning runs in the Seventh inning, when Andrew McCutchen singled one in with runners on Second and Third bases and Gregory Polanco followed him with a 3-run Home Run to put the Pirates up 8-2. Pirates’ relievers struggled in the bottom of the Seventh, as Kyle Lobstein loaded the bases and gave up a run on a fielder’s choice and Arquimedes Caminero allowed the remaining baserunners to score on a Yadier Molina single. While this made the score 8-5, the Cardinals would score no more and the Pirates added two runs in the top of the Ninth to provide the final score of 10-5. Ryan Vogelsong would load the bases, but Mark Melancon would come on to get a game-ending double play and pick up a two-pitch save.
Pittsburgh Pirates Player of the Series: John Jaso
Part of me really wanted to give this to Jung Ho Kang but other than his two Home Runs, he was hit-less and did not play in the series finale. Rather this time it goes to the man with the dreads, First Baseman John Jaso. Jaso had been in the midst of a bit of a slump coming into this series, so it was good to see him get going in the series opener with a single. From there he only got better as the series went on. In the second game he went 2 for 4, tying the game briefly with a run-scoring single off on of those hits, and drew a walk during the Ninth inning comeback. In the series finale he busted out, going 3 for 4 and falling a Triple shy of a cycle. His 2-run Home Run in the Fifth inning, which gave
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the Pirates their initial lead was already his 3
Home Run of the season, a lot for Jaso who’s career high in a season is 10 (2012 with Seattle). Overall, Jaso went 6 for 12 on the series with only struck out once and has continued to be a great pickup for the Pirates.
Takeaways, Observations, and other Random Thoughts
Jung Ho Kang’s Debut
The long awaited 2016 debut of Jung Ho Kang came on Friday night. After a slow start, grounding into a double play and popping out on the first pitches in his first two at-bats, he hit two Home Runs that proved instrumental in giving the Pirates victory. However, honestly at times Kang did not look like he was quite ready and it was obvious that it will take some time before he is 100%. While he showed off his range by keeping a ball in the infield on one play that I personally thought was going into the outfield for sure, he also showed that his reactions may not be quite ready for the major league pace by bobbling a ball in that same game. Kang’s knee went through a traumatic injury, and he apparently will still not be able to run full-out for quite some time, but it’s good to have him back and his two Home Runs on Friday night were a good sign.
Francisco Liriano Looks Good Again
Francisco Liriano turned in his second straight good start on Friday night. Franky only seemed to get better as the game went on and overall it looked like vintage Liriano. Hopefully whatever funk he went through in April is now in the past and he can provide some much-needed stability at the top of the rotation. While Gerrit Cole was effective in his most recent start, especially compared to his previous outing, he still does not seem to be pitching at the level we saw throughout most of last season. Until he pitches like that guy again, Liriano is in my opinion the ace of the staff.
The bullpen continues to be a worrisome aspect of this Pirates team. Right now, Mark Melancon and Neftali Feliz are the only members of the bullpen that don’t cause me serious concern when they come in to pitch. Though Tony Watson seems to have largely moved on from his early season struggles, he looked less then sharp during his inning pitched in the series opener. Kyle Lobstein and Ryan Vogelsong have both had their poor moments in addition to both of them loading the bases with one out during the game Sunday afternoon, however both have had their times when they’ve proven effective. Jared Hughes was supposed to provide some stability after returning from the Disabled List, but he seems to have some control issues as he has walked 5 batters and only struck out 1 in his 4 appearances so far. He currently has a WHIP of 2.73. However, Arquimedes Caminero is the only one of this list who absolutely needs to be replaced. In 13.2 innings pitched so far this season, he has walked 11 batters for a 7.24 BB/9. He has a WHIP of 1.90 and a FIP of 5.71. While the bullpen as a whole is weak, Caminero is the weakest link.
Pirates 5-1 Against the Cardinals
The Pirates are now 5-1 against the Cardinals after this series victory! Given the likelihood that only one team besides the Cubs, if any, is likely going to the playoffs from the NL Central, and given that it won’t be the Reds or Brewers the head-to-head matchups with the Cardinals will be very important. Well fortunately for the Pirates, they’ve gotten off to a good start through the first six games. While the Pirates currently stand 7.5 games back of the Cubs for 1st place in the NL Central (thanks to the Cubs sweep of the Washington Nationals), they are 1.5 games clear of the St. Louis Cardinals for 2nd place thanks to their series victory. It’s still a long season and anything can happen (other than the Cubs ever losing again apparently), but every game counts.
Series Result: Pirates win 2-1
Season Record: 17-14 (2nd in NL Central)
Series Record: 6-4
Prediction Result: Correctly predicted a Pirates series win (4-6)
Next up: The Pirates continue their road trip in Cincinnati to take on the Reds in a 3 game series starting Monday night.