Pittsburgh Pirates Drop Series Opener vs Milwaukee Brewers
By Marty Leap
The Pittsburgh Pirates are now 4-7 in their last 11 games
Last Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates were enjoying an off day after going 7-4 on an 11-game road trip. This trip, which saw the team play those 11 games in 11 days, could prove to the most challenging trip of the season. After going 7-4 on the trip, the team owned a 24-20 record and looked ready to finish May strong. Baseball, however, is not always that simple.
Since then, the team has sputtered to a 3-8 record. The latest loss came by the score of 11-5 in the first game of a four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night. Following the loss, the team has fallen back under .500 on the season at 27-28.
The month of May has not been kind to Pirate starter Joe Musgrove. As we covered on the site today, a big reason for this is a drop in strikeout rate and whiffs this month. In his final start of the month, Musgrove’s May struggles continued.
While Musgrove was able to generate more swings-and-misses than he had been this month, control and hard contact allowed continued to be an issue for the Pirate righty. Typically, these two things go hand in hand for pitchers.
Milwaukee hitters scorched 11 balls with an exit velocity of at least 98 MPH off of Musgrove. Four of these came in Milwaukee’s 2-run 1st inning. One of them was the first of two home runs for Mike Moustakas.
In the top of the 2nd inning, Moustakas hit his second home run of the game. This one was a solo shot, and extended the Brewer lead to 3-1. This was followed by Yasmani Grandal‘s 12th home run of the season, making it 4-1 Brew Crew.
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To Musgrove’s credit, he was able to battle through and give the team 6 innings. He posted a zero in the 5th inning and pitched his lone 1-2-3 inning of the night in the 6th. In his 6 innings of work, Musgrove was tagged for 5 runs on 11 hits, a career high three home runs allowed, two walks (one intentional), and six strikeouts.
With the team’s starting rotation in disarray, and Jordan Lyles to potentially join the IL party, the Bucs need Musgrove to pitch the way he did last season and in March/April this season. If not, things are only going to become even more difficult than they already are for a challenged Pirate staff. A strong argument can be made that getting Musgrove back on track is just as important for the Pirates as getting pitchers healthy is.
Offensively, the Pirates first run came in the 2nd inning. Josh Bell doubled to start the inning, Bryan Reynolds singled to extend his hitting streak to nine games, and the Pirates had runners on the corners with no one out. After Colin Moran struck out, Elias Diaz singled to score Bell and move Reynolds to third base. However, Adam Frazier then fouled out before Musgrove was retired to end the inning.
In the 2nd inning the Pirates should have scored more than they did, but poor at bats by Moran and Frazier proved to be rally killers. However, Moran would make up for is poor at bat by hitting a solo home run in the 4th inning. His 6th long ball of the season cut the Brewer lead to 5-2.
Bell’s 2nd inning doubled was a historic one. This was his 12th double in the month of May. He has also hit 12 home runs this month. This makes Bell just the third player in NL history with at least 12 doubles and 12 home runs in a single month joining Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, both of whom did it in July of 1961. That’s some pretty darn good company for Josh.
In the 5th inning the Pirates had an opportunity to potentially tie the game.
With one out Gregory Polanco walked and Starling Marte was hit by a pitch. This brought Bell to the plate, representing the tying run. However, Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson got Bell to pop out to center field before getting the also red hot Reynolds to groundout.
Alex McRae replaced Musgrove in the top of the 7th inning. In 2 innings of work McRae struggled with control, threw a pair of wild pitches, and was touched up for 2 runs on four hits and a pair of walks. McRae is one of a few pitchers the Pirates currently have on their roster that, to be frank, do not have much business being on a MLB roster. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Bucs are well past desperate times.
The Pirates were able to cut into the Brewer lead in the 8th inning. Reynolds reached on an infield hit, Moran walked, and both scored on a two-out pinch hit double by Melky Cabrera. This was followed by a run-scoring single from Cole Tucker that cut Milwaukee’s lead to 7-5.
Following Tucker’s single, Corbin Burnes was lifted for Josh Hader. Kevin Newman battled against Hader, but struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
With the Priates back into the game they needed a zero in the top of the 9th inning. Unfortunately, Richard Rodriguez is not very good at providing those. Eric Thames led off the inning with a home run off of Rodriguez. This was the 9th home run allowed by Rodriguez this season.
Rodriguez was not done struggling following the Thames home run. He walked a pair, allowed two more hits, and 3 more runs. When the dust settled, Rodriguez had been tagged for 4 runs to make the score 11-5 Brewers.
His struggles this season led to Rodriguez being optioned to Triple-A earlier this month. He returned to the team on Monday, and pitched well against the Reds. However, he still needed to do more before being trusted in important situations again. The fall of Rodriguez has played a large role in the Pirate bullpen struggling this season.
Things continue to be a grind for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team keeps battling injuries, ineffective performances, and a challenging schedule. Right now they need to do all they can to stay afloat until the pitching staff gets some reinforcements. However, doing so is becoming more and more difficult for the team.
A big first step to continuing to stay afloat is Musgrove pitching better. He might be pitching through a minor injury, perhaps he is having an issue tipping pitches, or maybe his mechanics are off. Whatever it is, he and pitching coach Ray Searage need to get it figured out ASAP.
Game two in this four-game set is scheduled for 7:05 on Friday night. Chris Archer (5.75 ERA, 5.57 FIP) will start for the Pirates and look to turn his season around. Like Musgrove, getting Archer back on track is vital for the Pirates and staying afloat in the NL postseason race. Craig Counsell and the Brewers will counter with veteran righty Jhoulys Chacin (4.88 ERA, 5.72 FIP) who has had his fair share of struggles this season as well.