Rough June Continues for Pittsburgh Pirates

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Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates rough June continued and got worse with Francisco Cervelli and Gerrit Cole injuries. Read on for recaps and some analysis.

The month of June has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Through the month’s first 12 games, the Pirates have just a 3-9 record. Furthering problems are a pair of major injuries that the Pittsburgh Pirates must now deal with.

Even though the previous week was a rough one for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it at least brings a stretch of 30 games in 31 days to an end. The team getting a day off today can only help.

Record over Last Week: 2-5

Overall Record: 32-31 (3rd Place in NL Central)  

June 6: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Mets

Rained out and made up as part of a doubleheader the next day


June 7: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Mets (Game 1)

Final. 1. 3. 3. 4

Winning Pitcher: Jon Niese

Losing Pitcher: Steven Matz

Save: Mark Melancon

Jon Niese cruised against his old team in the first game of the doubleheader, giving up only four hits over seven innings of shutout ball. The Pittsburgh Pirates scored single runs in the first, fifth, and sixth innings, with the last one coming on a Jordy Mercer solo home run. Curtis Granderson got the Mets’ only run with a solo home run of his own off of Neftali Feliz in the eighth inning. That would be all for New York though, as Mark Melancon would come on in the ninth to close it out. It wasn’t all good for the Pirates though, as Starling Marte left the game in the bottom of the seventh with a left ankle injury.


June 7: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Mets (Game 2)

4. Final. 1. 3. 3

Winning Pitcher: Juan Nicasio

Losing Pitcher: Jacob deGrom

Save: Mark Melancon

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Pirates’ starter Juan Nicasio struck out seven, but only lasted five innings. He would still pick up the win in this one thanks to only allowing one earned run during his time on the mound.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates offense struck early, scoring two runs in the second inning to go up 2-0. The Mets would get their run thanks to a run-scoring single from Kevin Plawecki in the fifth inning. The Pirates would get that run back in the home half though thanks to a John Jaso double that would score Chris Stewart.

The bullpen would proceed to shut down the Mets, giving up only one hit over the remainder of the game, and Mark Melancon would strike out the side in the ninth to give him his second save of the day.


June 8: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Mets

4. Final. 6. 3. 5

Winning Pitcher: Addison Reed

Losing Pitcher:  Cory Luebke

Save: Jeurys Familia

Jameson Taillon turned in a solid Major League debut in the series finale with the Mets, going six innings and giving up three runs on six hits. The Pittsburgh Pirates bats initially gave him a solid chance of picking up the win in his first game, scoring two runs off Mets starter Noah Syndergaard early. 

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However, the Mets would tie it though in the fourth inning from Ty Kelly’s two-run home run. Both teams would add single runs to make it 3-3 going into the seventh, when the Pirates would add two more runs to make it 5-3. The Pirates bullpen would not hold onto this lead though and Jared Hughes would give up a game-tying two-run home run, the Mets’ second of the game, to Michael Conforto. The Mets would go on to win this one in 10 innings after a Wilmer Flores run-scoring single put them up 6-5 and the Pirates failed to respond in the home half.


June 9: Pittsburgh Pirates @ Colorado Rockies

4. Final. 11. 108. 5

Winning Pitcher: Rubby De La Rosa

Losing Pitcher: Jeff Locke

The less said about this game the better. Starter Jeff Locke gave up all 11 Rockies’ runs in just 4.2 innings pitched. The lone bright spot of this game was David Freese’s three-run home run that came as part of a four-run third inning for the Pirates.


June 10: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals

9. 33. 3. 4. Final

Winning Pitcher: Jonathan Broxton

Losing Pitcher: Juan Nicasio

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

This game was much closer than indicated by the final score. The Pittsburgh Pirates held the lead for most of the game, scoring single runs in the second and fifth innings.

However, the Cardinals took their first lead of the game thanks to Matt Carpenter’s three-run home run in the eighth inning. The Pirates were able to tie the game and force extra innings in the bottom of the ninth, but squandered a great chance to win the game when they were unable to push the winning run across with the bases loaded and only one out.

This would come back to cost the Pittsburgh Pirates as the Cardinals exploded for six runs in the 12th inning. St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright of all players provided what would prove to be the winning runs when he hit a two-run pinch hit double to make it 5-3. The Cardinals would add two more runs before Brandon Moss hit a two-run home run to finish the scoring. Juan Nicasio was charged with all six runs and the loss and gave up a total of four hits and two walks in the inning.


June 11: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals

33. 1. 4. Final. 5

Winning Pitcher: Carlos Martinez

Losing Pitcher: Francisco Liriano

Save: Trevor Rosenthal

Pirates’ starter Francisco Liriano went six innings and struck out eight, but had one bad inning that ended up being the undoing for the Pittsburgh Pirates in this game. Neither team was able to figure out the opposing pitcher, until the Cardinals exploded for four runs in the fifth inning.

Brandon Moss led off the inning with a double and advanced to third base on a wild pitch. Liriano was then able to strike out Jedd Gyorko, but Chris Stewart couldn’t hold on to the ball and it ended up going to the backstop. This allowed Gyorko to advance safely to first base and Moss to come in for the first run of the game. Later in the inning, Aledmys Diaz walked to put two on for Matt Holliday, who would break the game open with a three-run home run to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead. Both teams would score single runs in the seventh inning to set the final score at 5-1.


June 12: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Final. 8. 33. 3. 4

Winning Pitcher: Mike Leake

Losing Pitcher: Jon Niese

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Just when it started to seem that Jon Niese had turned things around, he was roughed up on Sunday evening. Niese allowed eight earned runs on 11 hits over only 5.1 innings pitched. Niese also gave up two  home runs. The Cardinals scored all of their runs in the game off of Niese and got the majority of them from big innings in the third and sixth, when they scored three and four runs.

Trailing 4-0 in the fourth inning, the Pirates briefly made it a ballgame when they halved the deficit with a two run inning, but the Cardinals broke the game open with their four-run sixth inning. The Pirates added a single run in the seventh inning, but would pose no threat as the Cardinals, for the first time since 2009, would sweep the Pirates in Pittsburgh.


Pirate of the Week: Starling Marte

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Once again, it was a rough week for the Pittsburgh Pirates with no real heroes or stand out performances. David Freese did have a good week that included a three-run home run, but it came in a blow out loss to the Rockies. Starling Marte had the best statistical week on the team and could be considered to be the only Pirate who showed up as the team got swept by the Cardinals over the weekend.

Marte had a multi-hit game in all three games and hit a triple on Friday night. Overall Marte went 8-for-20 this past week and had a stolen base. Marte even missed time this week as he was removed from the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader with an apparent injury. Though he missed the second game and didn’t start on Wednesday, he did come in to pinch hit off the bench.


Takeaways, Observations, and other Random Thoughts

Jameson Taillon Debut

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The long-awaited debut of Jameson Taillon came as a bit of a surprise, as a rainout forced the Pirates to call him up after the make-up doubleheader to make a spot start. Taillon looked good, if not great, throwing 91 pitches over six innings and giving up three earned runs on six hits and walking two batters, while striking out three. He made one big mistake in the fourth inning when he gave up a two-run home run to the Mets’ light hitting third baseman Ty Kelly.

His first game compares with Gerrit Cole’s, the last highly anticipated Pirates’ pitching debut, to some degree. Cole went 6.1 innings in his debut, but only needed 81 pitches and walked none in giving up two earned runs on seven hits. Unlike Cole, Taillon was sent right back to Indianapolis after making his first start, though Taillon should return to Pittsburgh before the month is out.

 

Rockies Make-up Game

When Major League Baseball scheduled this game it made little sense. The only logic in the decision seemed to be that it was a mutual off day. For the Pittsburgh Pirates especially though it was a curious choice of date as it came right in the middle of a homestand, requiring the Pirates to fly two time zones to Denver, play a single game, and return to Pittsburgh in 24 hours. Even for the Rockies it wasn’t ideal as they were forced to play an afternoon game less than 12 hours after returning from a road series in Los Angeles.

I understand the difficulties that are present in working out schedules for 30 teams even without throwing make-up games into the mix, but this choice in scheduling was just plain stupid. While it may just sound like I’m bitter because the Pirates lost this game, I’ve been saying this since this date was announced shortly after the previous game was cancelled in late April.

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

While it doesn’t matter now, just a brief look at the remaining schedules for both teams shows two mutual off days while the Pittsburgh Pirates are already out west on previously scheduled road trips and the Rockies are already at home. The first would be on June 30, when the Pirates have an off day between playing in Seattle and Oakland and the Rockies will be playing a home game the afternoon of June 29 and going to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers the next evening. The game could have been played the afternoon of June 30, with both teams getting away to their next destinations after the game.

The second option makes even more sense with the Pirates finishing a western road trip in San Francisco on August 17 and having an off day on August 18 before playing Miami back in Pittsburgh on August 19. The Rockies meanwhile are right in the middle of a homestand. The game could have been played the afternoon of August 18, with the Pirates playing in San Francisco the previous afternoon and not in Pittsburgh until the next evening, there would have been plenty of time for the Pirates to stop in Denver for this game before returning to Pittsburgh.

As I said none of this matters now, but with two vastly superior options staring them right in the face, I just wonder what the heck Major League Baseball was thinking when they rescheduled this game. While there may have been other factors in play that we don’t know about or that I just haven’t thought of, I can’t help but feel like the league just picked the next mutual off day between the two teams and said, play on this day. I also wonder why someone with the Pirates didn’t notice one of these two days and say, maybe one of these would be better. While this game and it’s outcome is just one of 162, given the Pirates’ recent struggles, how this turned out is not easy to swallow.

 

Cervelli and Cole Injuries

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

As if giving up six runs in the 12th inning to lose to the hated Cardinals wasn’t bad enough on Friday night, the Pirates lost both Francisco Cervelli and Gerrit Cole in this one as well. Cervelli’s injury, a broken hamate bone in his left hand, landed him on the disabled list. He will likely miss 4-6 weeks.

It is still unknown as of when I’m writing this whether Gerrit Cole’s injury, right tricep tightness, will land him on the disabled list as well, but he will miss at least his next start.

These two players are maybe the two worst that the Pirates could have lost right now. The team is already thin at Catcher with Elias Diaz on the 60-day disabled list, leaving only Chris Stewart. The Pirates did go out and trade for Erik Kratz to fill the backup catcher role, but he is a borderline Major League player and inspires little confidence.

Cole’s injury is also a blow, as pitching has been a notable weakness for the Pirates this year. Despite his slow start, Cole was the best pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation. Losing him for a significant period of time would be major detriment to the Pirates’ chances of making the postseason. The silver lining in this, if there is one, is that we may see Jameson Taillon back in Pittsburgh sooner than expected.

The Pirates May be in Trouble

Between the five game losing streak and losing Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli to injury this has been a week to forget for the Pirates. In fact the whole month of June has been a terrible one and we aren’t even halfway through it. The Pirates entered the month with a record of 29-21, in playoff position, in second place in the NL Central, and in striking distance of the Cubs at 6.5 games back. Since then, they are 3-9 in June, sit barely over .500 at 32-31, are out of playoff position, have fallen behind the Cardinals to third place in the standings, and are now 12 games behind the Cubs.

While this could just be a slump, it doesn’t feel that way to me. The pitching, a weak spot all season, now seems to be falling apart completely and the offense, while very good, does not hit enough home runs to outslug opponents when the pitching is especially bad. Factor in the injuries and things could continue to get worse for the Pittsburgh Pirates. At the beginning of the month, though I thought catching the Cubs to be a longshot, I firmly believed that the Pirates had over a 50% chance of making the playoffs at least as a Wild Card. Now, I’m starting to think that if the Pirates don’t right the ship soon, they could be in danger of having their first losing season since 2012.

 

Coming up this week: The Pirates get a much needed day off before taking the road to visit the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs.

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

*Stats and Info courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, espn.com, and mlb.com

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