The Pittsburgh Pirates take care of business against lesser competition at home this week. Read on for recaps and some analysis:
Record over Last Week: 4-2
Overall Record: 23-19 (2nd in NL Central)
May 16: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves
Winning Pitcher: Jon Niese (4-2)
Losing Pitcher: Williams Perez (1-1)
Save: Mark Melancon (12)
The Pittsburgh Pirates jumped out to a 6-0 lead through the first five innings of their series opener against the lowly Atlanta Braves. The Pirates struck early, getting three runs in the first inning, and then added two more in the third inning. The sixth run of the ballgame came on a Josh Harrison triple in the fifth inning. Meanwhile starting pitcher Jon Niese kept the Braves in check, only allowing three hits and no runs through the first five innings. In the sixth inning, Niese’s last in the game, the Braves finally got on the board when Jeff Francoeur followed off a leadoff Freedie Freeman double with a two-run home run. Matt Joyce got those runs back for the Pirates though, when he hit a 2-run home run of his own in the seventh inning to make it 8-2. The Braves added three runs in the eighth inning, but it proved too little too late as the Pirates took the series opener 8-5.
May 17: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves
Winning Pitcher: Juan Nicasio (4-3)
Losing Pitcher: Aaron Blair (0-3)
Save: Mark Melancon (13)
Despite lasting only five innings and giving up five Runs on eight hits, Juan Nicasio still picked up the win in this one thanks to the Pirates’ bats. The Pirates scored seven times in the first inning and chased starter Aaron Blair after 1 1/3 innings pitched after adding two more in the second inning. Despite the large deficit, the Braves didn’t go down without a fight. They added three runs in the third inning and two more in the fifth inning.
The Pirates added a couple in the home half of the fifth inning to make it 11-5, but the Braves kept coming, making it 11-9 through the top of the seventh. Andrew McCutchen scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh though and neither team scored the remainder of the game. This set the final at 12-9 Pirates.
May 18: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves
Winning Pitcher: Julio Teheran (1-4)
Losing Pitcher: Francisco Liriano (3-3)
Save: Arodys Vizcaino (4)
Francisco Liriano gave up only two runs over seven innings pitched, but his counterpart for the Braves, Julio Teheran, did an even better job shutting down the Pirates’ hitters. Teheran went 7 2/3 innings without giving up a run. The Braves scoring came on single runs in the third, sixth, and ninth innings, which gave them a 3 run lead going into the bottom of the Ninth. The Pirates avoided a shutout thanks to a Jung Ho Kang home run in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn’t enough as the Braves won only their tenth game of the season.
May 19: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves
Winning Pitcher: Jeff Locke (2-3)
Losing Pitcher: Mike Foltynewicz (1-2)
Jeff Locke turned in one of his best performances of the season, going seven innings and only giving up two runs on six hits, while striking out six and only walking two. Mike Foltynewicz, his counterpart for the Braves, on the other hand lasted only three innings and allowed the Pirates to race out to a 5-0 lead after only two innings. The Braves added single runs in the fourth and sixth innings, but the Pirates scored three runs the fifth and sixth innings to put the game out of reach and give the Pirates a series victory.
May 20: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies
Winning Pitcher: Gerrit Cole (5-3)
Losing Pitcher: Eddie Butler (2-2)
Save: Mark Melancon (14)
Despite going giving up ten hits and not recording a strikeout, Gerrit Cole only gave up one run over seven innings pitched and did enough to give the Pirates victory. The Pirates got on the board in the first inning when John Jaso scored on a Gregory Polanco groundout. The 1-0 lead would hold up until Gerrit Cole gave up his only run of the game on a Nolan Arenado home run in the sixth inning. David Freese would deliver the go-ahead run in the Pirates half of the inning when he singled in Starling Marte. Marte would then preserve the lead by throwing out Dustin Garneau at the plate in the seventh inning and the Pirates would hold on to win 2-1.
May 21: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies
Winning Pitcher: Carlos Estevez (1-1)
Losing Pitcher: Mark Melancon (0-1)
The Pirates wasted a great Jon Niese start, only scoring one run for the game in the fourth inning when Jordy Mercer singled in Matt Joyce. Niese meanwhile only allowed one run on four hits in his seven innings pitched. Still, the Pirates went into the ninth inning locked in a 1-1 tie.
Mark Melancon got two quick strikeouts, but a Francisco Cervelli throwing error allowed Gerardo Parra to reach base and the inning to continue. Melancon would walk Daniel Descalso and a Tony Wolters single, combined with a John Jaso error, would score the go-ahead runs to make it 3-1. Christhian Adames would add insurance in the form of a two-run home run to provide the final score of 5-1.
May 22: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Colorado Rockies
Postponed after game started,
Rockies had 1-0 lead through one inning of play. The Pirates and Rockies will make this game up tomorrow.
Pirate of the Week: John Jaso
John Jaso had a nice week, getting the start in every game and going 11-for-22 with three walks. Additionally, Jaso only struck out twice this past week. Of his 11 hits, three of them also went for extra bases, including a triple. Jaso’s triple, his second of the season, came in what was probably his best game of the week. That would have been the series finale of the Braves series on Thursday night. In that game Jaso went 3-for-4 with a walk, with one of those hits of course being the triple.
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Though he did commit 2 errors this past week, they were actually his first two errors of the season. It’s already been harped on a bit about how much better he has been at first base than the Pirates’ previous option at the position. From the plate, Jaso is now slashing .312/.380/.468 on the season. Though his walk rate is down from his career rate (9.5 percentin 2016 compared with 12.4 percent for his career), his on-base percentage is actually at the same rate as last season (.380) thanks to more hits from the plate. Overall, Jaso has been a fantastic addition to this team and weeks like this are an example of that.
Takeaways, Observations, and other Random Thoughts
Pirates Miss Opportunity
The Pirates may have won their series with the Braves, but it was still a bit of a disappointment due to their loss in the third game of the series. Julio Teheran is by far the best pitcher on the Braves’ weak pitching staff and he showed it by shutting down Pirates’ hitters. While Francisco Liriano also turned in an effective start, something much needed after his previous rough start against the Cubs, it wasn’t enough to get the Pirates the victory. This was a game the Pirates may look back on as a game they wish they could get back. A weak opponent and a good start from a guy at the front of your rotation is usually a game the Pirates would win. While it was the only loss to the Braves of the 4 game set, a series sweep would have been nice to have, especially with the Pirates still trailing the Cubs by a large margin in the NL Central.
Jon Niese Looking Good
Jon Niese had two starts this past week and both were great starts. Niese earned the win in his first start, but got a no decision in his second start due to poor run support. Over the past week, Niese has gone 13 inning pitched and only allowed 3 Earned Runs on 9 Hits. Niese, who has had Home Run issues this season, only gave up 1 this past week. Additionally, he struck out 10 and only walked 3. These numbers, though over a small sample size, equate to a 2.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 6.92 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, and perhaps most encouragingly 0.69 HR/9. Additionally, his performance this past week has lowered his ERA to below 5.00, to 4.75, on the season. Given the Pirates pitching struggles this season, I don’t need go into how important an improved Jon Niese would be to the Pirates’ playoff chances this season. Hopefully, we’ll see more from Jon Niese that was seen in the past week.
Major League Debuts
Shortstop Alen Hanson and relief pitcher Wilfredo Boscan both made their Major League debuts this past week. Hanson replaced Starling Marte on the roster for three games while he was on paternity leave. Hanson did not get a start in any of the games, but he made two appearances as a pinch hitter against the Braves.
In the series opener against the Braves he made his debut and struck out. The next night he hit a single for his first hit when he came on for starting pitcher Juan Nicasio in the fifth inning. Hanson was sent back to Indianapolis after Marte was reinstated from the paternity list, but relief pitcher Wilfredo Boscan remains with the Pirates after replacing Cory Luebke in the bullpen this week.
Boscan made his debut in the series finale against the Braves, pitching two scoreless innings, giving up only one hit and striking out two. Personally, I’m happy to see Boscan finally make his debut. Last season the Pirates called Boscan up from Indianapolis on three separate occasions for bullpen depth and sent him back after a few days each time after not appearing in any games. This time Boscan may be here to stay, as he has pitched well in AAA this season and he will likely be better than many of the relievers that the Pirates have sent out this season.
Jung Ho Kang Hand Injury
It was annoying to see Jung Ho Kang leave the game on Saturday against the Rockies with a hand injury, and not just because Rockies’ Catcher Tony Wolters was blocking home plate on the play that caused it. Though Kang is luckily not expected to miss a significant amount of time, if any, Pirates’ fans must be wary of any injury to Kang after his knee injury. Especially since it is obvious when watching Kang running that he is not 100 percent yet. Any setback would be disappointing right now. Luckily, this does not appear to be the case this time.
Coming up this week: The Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies will make up their rainout from Sunday on Monday afternoon at 12:35pm. Then, the Pirates finish their current homestand with a three game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. They will then travel to Texas to take on the Rangers in an inter-league set this weekend.
*Stats courtesy of Fangraphs, espn.com, mlb.com, and milb.com