Pittsburgh Pirates Defeat San Francisco Giants For Fourth Consecutive Victory

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 19: Jung Ho Kang #16 and Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after scoring during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park on April 19, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 19: Jung Ho Kang #16 and Josh Bell #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate after scoring during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park on April 19, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have now won four games in a row

Entering play on Friday, the Pittsburgh Pirates owned the best winning percentage (.625) in the National League. While the start of the game happened later than originally planned, the team’s hot start to the season would continue on Friday night.

Following a 1 hour 25 minute rain delay, baseball was played at PNC Park. The game that unfolded saw the Pittsburgh Pirates improve to 11-6 on the season by defeating the San Francisco Giants bu a score of 4-1. While the Pirates were victorious, it may prove to be a costly one. Three of the team’s starting nine exited the game early after injury scares. Also, starting second baseman Adam Frazier was a late scratch due to back spasms. All of this comes for a team that already has five members of their projected Opening Day 25-man roster on the injured list.

Facing 2014 National League Wild Card Game nemesis Madison Bumgarner, the Pirates would quickly jump out to a big lead.

Starling Marte lined out to center field and Melky Cabrera was robbed of extra bases by Evan Longoria to start the bottom of the 1st inning. After two strong at bats, it looked like the Pirates would wind up getting snake bitten in the inning. However, a big two-out rally was about to begin.

Jung Ho Kang worked a walk, Josh Bell singled, and then Francisco Cervelli stepped to the plate. Cervelli entered the at bat mired in a 0-for-24 rut, but he was about to bust the slump. Cervelli ripped a double to left field, giving the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

Cervelli’s double was followed by back-to-back RBI singles by Pablo Reyes and JB Shuck. Just like that, the Bucs led Bumgarner and the Giants 4-0. It took until the 17th game of the season, but this was the team’s first 4-run inning of the season. Yay offense!

The Giants threatened to get some of those runs back in the top of the 2nd inning, but Pirate starter Jordan Lyles and his defense had other ideas.

With one out and a runner on first Longoria ripped a double into the left field corner, but Shuck quickly got the ball in to prevent the runner from scoring. Kevin Pillar then flew out to shallow right field where Cabrera was set up and ready to make a throw. The veteran outfielder would uncork a rocket to the plate that beat Brandon Crawford easily. Cervelli applied the tag, the scoring threat was thwarted, and the inning was over.

Adding Cabrera on a minor league deal continues to look like a brilliant move by general manager Neal Huntington. Without Cabrera, the Pirates would be in a heap of trouble due to the amount of outfield injuries they have suffered. So far this season, Cabrera is looking like one of the best bargain signings of the offseason by any team in baseball.

When the Pirates announced that Lyles would be the fifth and final member of the Pirate rotation many people, including yours truly, were critical of the Pirates. So far, it’s all of us that look foolish, not the Pirates.

Lyles fired 6 scoreless innings against the Giants on Friday. He allowed four hits, issued one walk, induced three double plays, and struck out six. In three starts this season Lyles has allowed 10 hits, one home run, he’s walked five, and struck out 18 batters in 17 innings pitched. While he is the team’s fifth starting pitcher, Lyles has looked like anything but this season.

His night ended prematurely due to taking a line drive off his pitching hand on an inning ending 6-3 double play in the top of the 6th inning. Had it not been for this line drive and the Pirates playing it safe with Lyles, he likely would have came back out for the 7th inning.

Through his first three Pirate starts Lyles has looked confident and composed on the mound. He has used his four-seamed/two-seamed fastball combo, paired with an effective curveball and a cutting fastball to pitch his way to an ERA of 0.53.

If Lyles continues to pitch as well as he has the Pirate rotation will continue to be among the best in all of baseball. This starting rotation is the main catalyst behind the Pirates owning the best winning percentage in the NL so far this season. So far, Lyles is looking like a secret weapon for the Pirates and the latest in a long line of Ray Searage reclamation projects.

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Following Lyles, veteran lefty Francisco Liriano would replace him in the top of the 7th inning. Liriano allowed a gorundball single to start the inning, and issued a two-out walk to Longoria on a 3-2 pitch that should have been strike three instead of ball four. After the walk, Liriano was lifted for Kyle Crick. Crick would quickly put the fire out by striking out Pillar to end the inning.

While Liriano’s ERA is a clean 0.00 this season, his control has left a lot to be desired. His four walks in 5 1/3 innings pitched simply is not good enough. His seven strikeouts have helped to make up for his control issues and his lone walk on Friday should have been strikeout. That said, Liriano needs to start to hit the strike zone more consistently in order to last in the Pirate bullpen.

After the Pirates went down in order in the bottom of the 7th inning, rookie Nick Burdi took over on the mound in the top of the 8th inning. After Burdi got a strikeout to start the inning, things took a turn south for the Pirates.

A routine pop up to shallow center field that should have been caught for an out dropped for a hit when Erik Gonzalez did not back off a ball that Marte had squared up. After a violent collision in the outfield, both players exited the game with injury. Gonzalez was able to walk off the field, while Marte was carted off. This was not the first time this season Gonzalez had collided with a teammate after poor communication on a pop up. It was, however, the most costly.

Following a lengthy delay, Burdi issued a walk and struck out Joe Panik. After freezing Panik with a 99 mph fastball on the outside edge, Burdi was lifted for Richard Rodriguez. Rodriguez allowed a RBI single to Buster Posey, before getting Brandon Belt to pop out to end the inning.

When all the dust from the top of the 8th inning settled, the Pirates led the Giants 4-1.

In the 9th inning it was Felipe time. Pirate closer Felipe Vazquez was handed the ball and the job of protecting a 4-1 lead. To no surprise after what unfolded in the 8th inning, Felipe looked like a man that was pitching with a purpose. Felipe was absolutely dominant and struck out all three batters he faced.

The biggest takeaway from Friday’s victory is the potential injuries for the Pirates. Three of the game’s starting nine, including the team’s best player in Marte, exited early with injury. If Marte does get placed on the injured list, which seemed possible if not likely, then the team needs to cut Gregory Polanco‘s rehab stint early and have him return to the club tomorrow.

To the credit of Clint Hurdle, his coaching staff, and every man on the Pirate roster this team just keeps battling. Even with injuries piling up, so far, the Battling Bucs of 2019 just keep finding ways to win baseball games.

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The second game of the series is scheduled for 4:05 on Saturday afternoon. Jameson Taillon (3.43 ERA, 3.58 FIP) will make his fifth start of the season for the Pirates. The Giants will counter with their second of three consecutive left-handed starters by sending veteran Derek Holland (4.09 ERA, 4.79 FIP) to the mound. As a reminder, Saturday’s game will be televised nationally on FS1.

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