Pittsburgh Pirates Have a Week to Forget
The Pittsburgh Pirates hadrough week, but remain in playoff position. Read on for recaps and some analysis:
Record over Last Week: 2-5
Overall Record: 30-26
Standings: 2nd in NL Central, 9.5 games back
Tied for 2nd Wild Card, 1.5 games back of 1st Wild Card
May 30: Pittsburgh Pirates @ Miami Marlins
Winning Pitcher: Jeff Locke
Losing Pitcher: Justin Nicolino
The story of this game was much maligned pitcher Jeff Locke’s complete game three hit shutout. The Pittsburgh Pirates provided the only run they would need on the day in the first inning, but piled on throughout the game.
With the score 2-0, through the first five innings, the Pirates broke the game open in the sixth inning with a five run outburst. The majority of the runs came from Gregory Polanco’s first career grand slam. The Pirates also added three runs in the ninth inning, which included a Sean Rodriguez two-run home run.
May 31: Pittsburgh Pirates @ Miami Marlins
Winning Pitcher: Jose Fernandez
Losing Pitcher: Gerrit Cole
Save: A.J. Ramos
A matchup of staff aces did not disappoint as Gerrit Cole and Jose Fernandez dueled through six scoreless innings. Ultimately though, it was the Marlins who broke through against Gerrit Cole scoring three runs in the seventh inning. The Pittsburgh Pirates avoided the shutout by scoring a run in the ninth inning, but it was too little too late and the Marlins evened up the series.
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June 1: Pittsburgh Pirates @ Miami Marlins
Winning Pitcher: David Phelps
Losing Pitcher: Tony Watson
Save: A.J. Ramos
Miami Marlins’ starter Adam Conley kept the Pittsburgh Pirates hitless into the sixth inning, but Pirates’ starter Jon Niese was equally effective in keeping Miami off the board into the fifth inning.
However, the Marlins were able to push two runs across in that inning to take a 2-0 lead. The Pirates were finally able to get on the board themselves when Matt Joyce delivered a two-run single in the seventh inning. However, in the eighth inning, Marlins’ shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria doubled home Miguel Rojas for the go-ahead run. The Pirates then went down hitless in the ninth inning and the Marlins got the win.
June 2: Pittsburgh Pirates @ Miami Marlins
Winning Pitcher: Nick Wittgren
Losing Pitcher: A.J. Schugel
The Marlins went up quickly, leading 3-0 through three innings. Marlins’ starter Wei-Yin Chen kept the Pirates hitless through six innings before Jung Ho Kang led off the seventh inning with a double. Matt Joyce would come up later in the inning with runners on first and second and delivered a two-run double to bring the Pirates within a run.
The Pirates, down to their last out in the ninth inning, would tie the game on a John Jaso single to bring home Jordy Mercer. Despite forcing extra innings, the Pirates would be unable to score any more runs and the Marlins would win the ballgame on a Christian Yelich run-scoring double in the 12th inning.
Next: Pirates Face Mets In Potential Wild Card Preview
June 3: Pittsburgh Pirates vs Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Winning Pitcher: Jered Weaver
Losing Pitcher: Francisco Liriano
The Angels roughed up Francisco Liriano early and often, scoring seven runs through the first four innings. Liriano would only last 3.1 innings, giving up ten hits, six earned runs, and walking four. The Pittsburgh Pirates would get their only runs of the game when Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang hit back-to-back home runs to open the second inning. The Angels would add two more runs in the seventh inning to provide the final score of 9-2 and run the Pirates losing streak to four games.
June 4: Pittsburgh Pirates vs Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Winning Pitcher: Jeff Locke
Losing Pitcher: Fernando Salas
Save: Mark Melancon
Jeff Locke would give up two home runs, but only three earned runs total and lasted 7 innings giving up seven hits and walking none to pick up his second win of the week. With the score tied at three through six innings, the Pittsburgh Pirates seemingly broke the game open with a five-run seventh inning that included two home runs.
However, the Angels wouldn’t go down quietly though, scoring four runs in the eighth inning to make it a one run game. But, Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth inning to snap the Pirates’ winning streak.
June 5: Pittsburgh Pirates vs Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Winning Pitcher: Deolis Guerra
Losing Pitcher: Tony Watson
Save: Huston Street
With the score tied at one in the second inning the Pittsburgh Pirates managed to load the bases with one out. Though the Pirates got two runs thanks to a hit by pitch and a walk, they were unable to get a hit that could have broken open the game and left the bases loaded. This would come back to haunt them in what would ultimately be a one run ballgame.
The Pirates would add a run in the Sixth inning to make it 4-1, but the Angels added two runs in the seventh to make it a one run game. Though now in the American League, Albert Pujols couldn’t help but beat up on the Pirates, his old favorite punching bag, by hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth inning. The Pirates would load the bases again in the ninth inning, but Sean Rodriguez hit into a double play to end the game.
Pirate of the Week: Jeff Locke
It was a forgettable week for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Jeff Locke of all people ended up being something of a bright spot. Locke was the starter for both of the Pirates’ wins in the past week and, though it is a generally meaningless stat, picked up the win in both contests. Locke obviously had his complete game shutout in the first game of the week, but his second start of the week was also a quality start. Taken all together, Locke pitched 16 innings this week and gave up only three runs and didn’t walk a single batter. His ERA for the week was 1.69 and he posted a WHIP of 0.63. Locke was also efficient in both starts, needing 105 pitches to get through nine innings on Monday and only 82 pitches to get through seven innings on Saturday.
Locke has proven to be one of the Pirates’ more consistent starters of late, going at least 6.1 innings in each of his last four starts, getting the win in each of those starts. He has also lowered his ERA from 5.45 to 4.28 over the same span. While Locke’s performance of late has solidified his spot in the rotation after Jameson Taillon is promoted, Locke will need to maintain this consistency if the Pirates are to contend this season.
Takeaways, Observations, and other Random Thoughts
Jeff Locke Complete Game
Locke’s complete game was the first of his career after 101 career starts. It was also the first by a Pirates’ starter since Vance Worley on July 28, 2014. This shows how rare of an occurrence that complete games have become in today’s game. Because of this, it is also a great accomplishment for Jeff Locke, who has been one of the most criticized pitchers by the Pirates’ fanbase in recent years.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve also been critical of Jeff Locke, particularly his inconsistency. Because of this, despite the great accomplishment, it doesn’t particularly surprise me as Locke has shown that he’s capable of turning out fantastic starts. However, because of this inconsistency I’m not ready to declare Jeff Locke a new pitcher. As mentioned above, he needs to show that he can continue to string together quality starts.
Difficulties Closing Against the Angels
The most frustrating thing about the series with the Angels this weekend was the club taking multi-run leads before watching them evaporate. On Saturday, a five run lead shrunk to one in the span of one inning. Though the team held on to win in that game, the Pirates were unable to hold onto a three run lead on Sunday.
The Angels capped a four run rally with an Albert Pujols two-run home run to take the game, and the series in that one. This was especially frustrating because in both instances the pitcher on the mound during the comebacks was Tony Watson. Watson has been less than his former All-Star self at times this season and picked up two losses in the past week.
Going back to the Marlins series, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a couple of missed opportunities. The Pirates fell behind in the third and fourth games of the series before tying the game in the later innings. Each time however the Marlins were able to pull out the win, in extra innings in the second game. While this is especially frustrating, the Pirates were batters were held in check during the majority of these games by relatively unheralded Marlins’ starters.
The Pirates could have done themselves a favor in these games by getting runs earlier and not having to rely on scoring late just to keep them in the game. Given the Pirates’ potent offense, this is an occurrence that should be rare in these situations, making it especially frustrating when it not only happens, but occurs in back-to-back games.
Pirates Need Taillon
Pirates starting pitching has been a massive disappointment this season, with inconsistency at the bottom of the rotation and Francisco Liriano obviously having issues. Even Gerrit Cole has been less than his usual ace self at times. Though Jeff Locke and Jon Niese have been more consistent of late, the Pirates desperately need help in the rotation.
Which is why Jameson Taillon will almost certainly make his long-awaited Major League debut sooner rather than later. The Pirates are, as is standard practice, waiting for the Super Two date. This day is usually around June 10th, so Taillon will likely make his next start soon after that date. Despite the need for Taillon, who is generally considered to be Major League ready, to be added to the rotation, at this time I urge restraint. Taillon is unlikely to come out and be an ace right away. After all, he has never faced Major League batting. However, Super Two can’t get here soon enough
Coming up this week: Things don’t get any easier for the Pittsburgh Pirates with the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals coming to town, with the Pirates being forced to fly to Colorado for a make-up game on a previously scheduled off day on Thursday before flying right back.
*Stats courtesy of FanGraphs and espn.com