Pittsburgh Pirates: Mistakes, Wasted Scoring Opportunities Lead to Frustrating Series Opening Loss in Tampa Bay
By Marty Leap
Mistakes and wasted scoring opportunities will kill you in the game of baseball, especially against great teams. Both of these issues plagued the Pittsburgh Pirates in a very frustrating loss against the Tampa Bay Rays.
There has not been a lot of frustration for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, but Tuesday night's loss in Tampa Bay had its fair share of it. A terrible strike zone, umpires not knowing what a balk is, poor managerial decisions, defensive miscues, atom balls, the loss had a bit of everything.
Tuesday night's game was touted as the start of a series between two heavyweights. Entering the series the Rays owed the best record in all of Major League Baseball, while the Pirates owned the second best record in MLB. While it was a frustrating game for Pirate fans, it was a tightly contested game like many baseball fans had anticipated.
Anything frustrating that can happen to a baseball team seemed to happen to the Pirates in their 4-1 loss. After dropping game one of their three-game series, the Pirates are now 20-10 on the season. Good enough to still be in first place in the National League Central.
Wasted scoring opportunities sink the Pirate offense
Working as the team's opener, Javy Guerra start the game for the Rays. It was clear early on that Guerra had no idea where the ball was going. This led to a lot of control issues. Unfortunately, the Pirates failed to take advantage.
Guerra issued back-to-back one-out walks in the inning. After he walked both Bryan Reynolds and Andrew McCutchen, Guerra fell behind in the count to Carlos Santana 1-0. Santana then got an elevated 1-0 pitch that he put a swing on and drove out to deep center field but was caught for the second out of the inning.
After Santana flew out, Guerra's day ended. Guerra was lifted for lefty Josh Fleming who broke Jack Suwinski's bat and got him to pop out on the infield. The Suwinski pop out ended the Pirate scoring threat, keeping the game scoreless. This was just the start of a frustrating daying with runners on base for the Pirates.
The Pirates finished the game 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position while leaving 12 runners on base. There were plenty of opportunities for the Pirates to strike for more than just their 1 run, but they failed to capitalize on these opportunities.
Pirates finally score in the 5th
To start the 5th inning Ke'Bryan Hayes hit a 113 MPH missile off the foot of Fleming. This prematurely brought Fleming's day to an end and was followed by a Reynolds double. This double extended Reynolds hitting streak to seven games.
With runners on second and third with no one out, McCutchen stepped to the plate looking to drive in a run but would go down swinging. Santana then hit a fly ball to shallow center field that third base coach Mike Rabelo made the aggressive decision to send Hayes on.
With a good throw Hayes would have been out at the plate, but the throw from Jose Siri was not the best and it was dropped by Christian Bethancourt. Even though it appeared Hayes may not have ever touched the plate he was called safe.
Tampa Bay would appeal and the call stood. After the Rays challenged the play, the call stood and the run counted. On the replay it did look as if Hayes was able to sneak his left hand in to touch the plate anyway.
Derek Shelton mismanages a frsutrating 6th inning
Joe doubled to start the 6th inning and Castro walked. Derek Shelton then made the decision to pinch hit Tucupita Marcano for Mark Mathias. For some reason, Marcano pinch hit simply so he could sacrifice bunt. Not just that, but to sacrifice bunt in front of Austin Hedges who has literally been the worst hitter in the majors in recent seasons.
Following Marcano's bunt. Hedges, not shockingly, struck out. However, during the Hedges at-bat the umpiring crew someone missed a pretty obvious balk on Tampa Bay pitcher Ryan Thompson. The terrible umpiring was not over yet as Hayes would then be called out on strikes on a 3-2 pitch that was below the strike zone.
After the Shelton told the media that the umpiring crew told him they missed the balk call. If that balk is called, who knows where that inning and in turn the game goes. Combine that with how bad the strike zone was and this umpiring crew should be held accountable. MLB should suspend them without pay.
If Shelty was going to pinch hit with two on and two outs he should have called on Mathias to lay down the bunt. Then, use Marcano to pinch hit for Hedges. Even after the bunt, Hedges should have been pinch hit for.
Roansy Contreras burned by poor defense in the 5th inning
Roansy Contreras deserves a lot of credit for the 1st inning. Due to a pitch comm issue he was charged with a pitch clock violation on his first pitch of the game. Charging a pitcher with a pitch clock violation due to a pitch comm issue is just poor umpiring. Poor umpiring by Adrian Johnson continued later in the at-bat when a clear strike to Yandy Diaz was called a ball after Diaz bended out of the way of a pitch that was in the strike zone.
When the dust settled from the Diaz at-bat Contreras had issued a walk. A lead off walk at that, and one that was not completely his fault. For a lot of young pitchers things could have gotten hairy here. Contreras did not let that happen, however. Showing poise beyond his age, the budding top of the rotation arm got Winder Franco - you know, one of the best players in baseball - to hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Contreras then got another ground ball out to end the inning.
The 3rd inning saw Contreras get in a bit of a jam again. A hit and a walk gave the Rays two runners on base with just one out and Franco due up. Once again, Contreras got Franco to hit into a double play as he grounded out right at Rodolfo Castro who stepped on the bag at second and threw to first to end the inning.
With the game tied at 1, Contreras issued a lead off walk in the 5th inning. Contreras would be the first person to tell you that a lead off walk there is unacceptable, especially when facing an eight-hole hitter. However, what happened next, and was not on Contreras at all, was also unacceptable.
A routine pop up between shortstop and center field would fall for a hit. It looked like Castro lost the ball, but Suwinski also should have been more vocal and probably taken control from center field. The Rays would also score a run in the inning on a double steal that saw Hedges make a very poor lob throw to second base from his knees, allowing the lead runner to break from third and steal home. Conteras allowed a solo home run to start the 6th inning, then got one more out before his day ended.
Contreras allowed 4 runs on six hits, four walks, a home run, and three strikeouts in 5.1 innings pitched. It was a start that saw Contreras show a lot of poise early, and was a start in which he had better stuff than his final line indicated. With better defense, Contreras easily could have allowed at least one, if not two less runs.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will be facing a tall task on Wednesday night as they look to even this series. Lefty Shane McClanahan (2.12 ERA, 3.30 FIP), who is quickly becoming one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, is slated to start for Tampa Bay. The Pirates also plan to send their ace to the mound as Mitch Keller (3.53 ERA, 3.70 FIP) will toe the rubber. First pitch from Tropicana Field is scheduled for 6:40 PM ET.