Diary of a long suffering Pirates fan: Game #6: Uh Oh. The winning streak is over. Is it time to panic?

Sometimes games are won and lost in the second inning
Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

The good news is that the Pirates are still in first place.  The bad news:  Their five game winning streak is over.

The Pirates lost 5 to 3 to the Washington Nationals yesterday. In losing, they looked like the Pirates of old:  They were done in by poor starting pitching, untimely hitting, failure to make plays in the field, and in one crucial instance, either poor scouting and/or poor coaching. 

Six of the eight total runs scored in this game were scored in the 2nd inning.  Unfortunately for the Pirates, four of those runs were for the Nationals and only two of those runs were for the Pirates.  That two-run difference would hold for the rest of the game.

Baseball is a team game.  But the box score doesn’t always reveal the team aspect of a loss.  The box score will reveal that Mitch Keller pitched 5.1 innings and gave up 5 runs and was the losing pitcher.  And to be sure, Keller did not look sharp.  He gave up eight hits and walked two.  The knee jerk reaction is to say the Pirates lost because Keller pitched poorly. 

But a break-down of the 2nd inning reveals that both teams could have limited the damage done to them in that inning had they had better glove work in the field.  In the Pirates case, in the second inning, they had an opportunity to break the game wide open but failed to get timely hits.  And then in the bottom of the second, the Pirates gloves failed them and so did their scouting reports.

Let’s take a closer look at how that second inning played out and why the Pirates ended up on the wrong end of it.

In the top of the second, with the score 0-0, the Pirates loaded the bases with nobody out.  Jack Suwinski led the inning off with a double (his first of two hits in the game).  McCutcheon and Tellez followed with walks, which loaded the bases with nobody out.

This was an opportunity for a big inning and an opportunity to chase Trevor Williams from the game.  But Henry Davis fouled out to first, and Jared Triolo struck out.  And Trevor Williams was now one batter away from pitching out of this mess.  And with better glove work, he would have.

Michael Taylor was the next batter.  And he hit a sharp grounder to short that shortstop CJ Abrams was unable to handle.  To Abrams defense, the ball was scorched.  It was ruled a single by the official scorer, and I don’t disagree with that ruling.  But the ball was definitely catchable, and there are MLB shortstops who could have made that play.  Abrams didn’t, though, and the ball ended up in left field and the Pirates had a two-to-nothing lead.   Oneil Cruz was next up with runners on first and third and a chance to add to that lead.  But Cruz grounded out to first and the inning ended.

When your team puts up multiple runs in an inning, the mission of the pitcher in the next half of the inning is to hold the other team scoreless--preferably in 1,2,3 fashion the quicker the better--so that the pitcher who just gave up the multiple runs in the inning before is forced to get right back out there with limited rest.

Mitch Keller was unable to complete that mission let alone hold the lead.  Joey Gallo led off the inning with an upper-deck home run, estimated to have traveled 457 feet.  The next batter, Keibert Ruiz, singled to center field.

And then the coaching and gloves failed the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The next batter, Eddie Rosario, hits a one-hopper to Tellez. It looks to be tailor-made for a double play. Tellez fields the ball and makes a perfect throw to Oneil Cruz covering second for the force out there, but Cruz does not throw to first.  The instant replay does not show why he didn’t throw to first only that he didn’t. Was Mitch Keller late covering the bag?  Was there a mix-up and/or traffic jam with both Keller and Tellez covering the bag?  Or, did Cruz just make a poor decision by not throwing the ball?  (Apparently, the Pirates aren’t the only ones committing early season errors, why the camera crew didn’t bother to show what was happening at first on the replay, I don’t know.) But a double play was not turned so instead of two outs and nobody on base, there is one out and still a runner on first.

The next hitter is awarded first base due to catcher’s interference.  That puts runners on first and second.

And then comes the back breaking hit.  Or at least in the box score, it goes as a hit.  Luis Garcia, Jr. hits a deep fly ball to left field.  Jack Suwinski has to turn his back to the infield in an attempt to track it down.  He catches up to the fly ball, but twists and turns the wrong way and the ball lands to the right of his outstretched glove onto the warning track for a double that ties the game. 

Should Suwinski have caught the ball?  No. If he would have, it would have been an amazing catch. One that would likely have been on ESPN's plays of the day. And he came close to getting it. But that is not the correct question to ask.  The correct question to ask is why was Suwinski playing so shallow to begin with?  To be sure, it was a well struck ball. But it didn’t hit the wall or even come close to hitting the wall.  It fell to the ground at the beginning of the warning track.  If Suwinski had been starting from a normal depth when the play started, he may have been able to catch it.  So, I ask the question again.  Why was he so shallow to begin with?  Was there something in the scouting report that said Garcia doesn’t go the opposite way with power?  Did a scouting report get it wrong?  Or did the coaches place him in that shallow position? 

Two batters later, Keller hangs a cutter to CJ Abrams, who lines it into right field to drive in the third and fourth runs of the innings.  And just like that.  The guy who didn’t make the play in the top of the inning, CJ Abrams, ends up getting the hit that wins the game for the Nationals.

In going 5-0 to start the season, the Pirates got contributions from many.  The bullpen, the bats, the gloves, and timely coaching moves.  In this, their first loss, they get just the opposite.  Poor hitting.  Poor coaching decisions.  Poor fielding and poor starting pitching.  A team loss in every way.

Some other concerning notes from the game.  The Pirates struck out 13 times in this game-- a game started by Trevor Williams, who is hardly known for being a strikeout pitcher.

The first three batters in the lineup went a combined 0 for 12

But this is the major leagues.  Every team has games like this.  No need to panic yet.  Just because losses like this are often endemic to the Pirates, doesn’t mean this will end up being that.  The Pirates are still in first place.  The sun will come up tomorrow…well, maybe not in Pittsburgh where it is cloudy all day, but it will shine again for these Pirates.  Nothing to worry about.  We’ll get em tomorrow.

And, hey, the Brewers lost. The Pirates are still in first place. We get to enjoy that for at least one more day.