The Pittsburgh Pirates continued their strong month of September with a shutout victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night
Some people will tell you that the month of September in Major League Baseball is glorified Spring Training. This sentiment is understandable. After all, teams that are out of postseason contention often find themselves using a plethora of young players in preparation for the following season.
That said, the month of September can, like Spring Training, be an important month for a MLB team. Take the Pittsburgh Pirates for example. Following a 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night, the team’s second wlak-off victory in as many nights, the Bucs have now won back-to-back series and are 10-5 this month to raise their overall record on the season to 76-74.
The Pirates have gone 10-5 thanks in large part to contributions from young players and rookies that will play key roles for the team in 2019. Not only are these players gaining valuable experience, but the team is also building momentum heading into the offseason.
Jameson Taillon started for the Pirates on Tuesday night and continued his breakthrough season. After pitching 7 scoreless innings on Tuesday night, Taillon now owns a 3.25 ERA and a 3.41 FIP on the season. He has also allowed three earned runs or less in 20 consecutive starts.
Taillon was flat out dominant in this game. He allowed four hits, walked just one batter, and he set a new career high in strikeouts with 11. Before the season I predicted that Taillon would be one of the ten best pitchers in the National League by the end of the season, and Taillon is becoming just that before our very eyes.
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The only time Taillon got into trouble was in the top of the 7th inning.
With one out, Alcides Escobar snuck a double down the left field line to put runners on second and third with just one out for the Royals. Brian Goodwin then hit a fly ball to Pablo Reyes in right field that appeared to be the go-ahead sacrifice fly.
Reyes, however, fielded the ball with a running start and fired a 93.5 mile per hour missile toward home plate. Pirate catcher Francisco Cervelli came up the line, made a stellar pick on the ball, and then applied a great sweep tag to Kansas City base runner Ryan O’Hearn. This kept the Royals off the board and sent the game to the bottom of the 7th inning still scoreless.
This played continued what has been an impressive month of September for Reyes. Who, as we discussed earlier today, might be in the process of earning a super utility role with the Pirates next season.
With two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning rookie third baseman Colin Moran stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter. This season Moran has been the team’s best pinch hitter and that continued on Tuesday night. Moran hit his first career pinch-hit home run to right-center field, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
After Richard Rodriguez pitched a scoreless 8th inning, it was Felipe Vazquez time in the 9th. With one out in the inning Vazquez ‘walked’ Jorge Bonifacio despite ball two being well within the strike zone. Following a Salvador Perez single and a strikeout, pinch-hitter Hunter Dozier hit a ball off the wall in left field. This allowed Bonifacio, who never should have been on base, to score to tie the game.
On the play, the Royals sent Perez home. This was a poor decision that would lead to the second Royals’ out at the plate on the night as Perez was nailed at the plate after Jordan Luplow fired a missile to Jordy Mercer who then made a perfect relay throw to Cervelli.
Facing Jason Hammel, the Pirate offense got to work in a hurry in the bottom of the 9th inning.
Starling Marte and Josh Bell recorded consecutive singles to start the inning. Clint Hurdle then made the poor decision of having Cervelli bunt. While Cervelli’s bunt moved each runner up a base, giving away outs statistically lowers your chances of scoring and is never smart. Additionally, Cervelli has been arguably the team’s best hitter this season and has been their best hitter with runners in scoring position.
Hill got Frazier to bounce back to the pitcher’s mound for the second out of the inning, leading to Elias Diaz pinch-hitting for Moran. Facing yet another new pitcher, Diaz walked to load the bases for Josh Harrison. Harrison then popped out to right field to send the game to extra innings.
Edgar Santana pitched a scoreless top of the 10th inning for the Pirates, Kyle Crick pitched a scoreless top of the 11th, and Marte led off the bottom of the 11th with his NL leading 30th infield hit of the season.
After Bell drew a walk the Pirates found themselves in the same position as they did in the bottom of the 9th inning – Bell on first, Marte on second, and no one out. This time around, Cervelli only squared to bunt once and bunted it foul. Kansas City pitcher Burch Smith then uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Marte and Bell to advance without a bunt.
After Cervelli was rung up on strikes on an iffy at best check swing call, the Royals intentionally walked Frazier. With bases loaded and one out, veteran catcher Ryan Lavarnway stepped to the plate to pinch-hit for the Pirates. In just his second at-bat at the MLB level this season, Lavarnway ripped a ball through the infield for his first career walk-off hit to give the Pirates a 2-1 victory.
Even when a MLB team is not jockeying for postseason position, the month of September can still be an important one. This is something that is currently happening with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With their 10-5 record this month, the Bucs have gotten back over .500 on the season and are playing some great baseball right now.
Best of all, this strong play has been driven largely by young players and their core guys who will be the key pieces in 2019. A strong September like the Pirates are currently having can be build momentum heading into the offseason, while also serving a launching pad into the following season.
The third and final game of this series is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday night at PNC Park. Chris Archer (4.66 ERA, 3.87 FIP) will make his final home start of the season for the Bucs, while the Royals will hand the ball to struggling righty Heath Fillmyer (4.76 ERA, 5.02 FIP).