The Pirates staged a three-run ninth-inning rally out of nowhere, but Sean Rodriguez struck out with the bases loaded to end the game, a 6-4 loss to the Cubs, on Tuesday night at PNC Park.
The rally caught me by surprise, honestly, as I'd pretty much checked out of another fairly boring game to that point. Closing the gap ended up only highlighting Gregory Polanco's error that led to two Chicago insurance runs.
Albert Almora hit a triple off Juan Nicasio with one out in the top of the ninth. Ben Zobrist grounded out sharply to first baseman David Freese, leaving Almora at third with two outs. After a walk, Tommy La Stella hit a fly ball straight at Polanco in left. Polanco, playing his first game since Friday night, apparently lost the ball in the lights. The ball hit his glove, but he dropped it and Almora scored. Javier Baez added an RBI single to give the Cubs a 6-1 lead.
A Francisco Cervelli double and two walks loaded the bases with one out against Justin Grimm in the bottom of the inning. Polanco smacked a single to left to score Cervelli, and Andrew McCutchen scored Freese and Adam Frazier with a single to center. With nothing to play for, the Cubs turned not to Aroldis Chapman but Felix Pena, who struck out Jung-Ho Kang. He intentionally walked Matt Joyce to load the bases, but fanned Rodriguez on three pitches to wriggle away.
Ryan Vogelsong, making likely his final start in a ballpark where he's seen his share of stuff, walked five and gave up four hits in five innings. He allowed four runs, three of which came on dirty old Chris Coghlan's second-inning, bases-loaded triple that was inches from being a grand slam in right-center field.
The Pirates scored a run in the bottom of the second, but missed a couple chances to pull closer. They had the bases loaded in the fourth when Jordy Mercer lined into an inning-ending double play. In the fifth, Kang struck out with runners on the corners to end the inning.
The upper end of the Pirates' system has been quite productive this season, and with low draft picks in all of the last three years due to their big-league performances, the Bucs probably shouldn't be dominating lists of the top prospects in the low minors. Also, their last two top picks, Kevin Newman and Will Craig, were college hitters who were too advanced to be recognized on these lists.
When Wilbur points to the relative dearth of talent in the low end of the Pirates' system, though, things like these lists are what he's talking about, and it's worth watching going forward. In recent seasons, the Bucs arguably haven't compensated for their very low draft picks by drafting particularly well, and they certainly haven't taken advantage of the opportunities available to them in Latin America, creating a bit of a talent void.
By the way, one feels for the fans in Bristol, which is the Pirates' Appalachian League affiliate. When I visited in 2014, at least some of them seemed very invested in whether the team was winning or losing. Three years in, the team there has yet to post anything resembling a winning record, and the closest it's been to having a clear prospect for any significant period was Austin Meadows getting 17 plate appearances in 2014 or Mitch Keller and Gage Hinsz each making a handful of starts last year. When the Pirates made a deal with Bristol, they were adding an additional affiliate, not moving an old one, and that looks to have mostly been a waste of time.
Here are the lineups for tonight's 7:05 game.
Dexter Fowler CF
Chris Coghlan RF
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Ben Zobrist 2B
Miguel Montero C
Tommy La Stella 3B
Javier Baez SS
Munenori Kawasaki 2B
John Lackey P
John Jaso 1B
Gregory Polanco LF
Andrew McCutchen CF
Jung Ho Kang 3B
Matt Joyce RF
Sean Rodriguez 2B
Francisco Cervelli C
Jordy Mercer SS
Ryan Vogelsong P
Closing the Gap
These days, the talk around PNC Park is all about how the Pirates can close the gap with the Cubs heading into 2017. How can they cut into the seemingly wide gulf that now separates the two teams?
After Monday's game, Andrew McCutchen pointed to the importance of a strong starting staff. Tuesday afternoon, his manager echoed those sentiments.
"The game will always start with pitching," Clint Hurdle said. "Always has, always will. I think if you look at it any other way, I think you're confused. For the team's that will finish playing in October, rotation strength plays, it's real."
Heading into the season, the starting rotation was a concern that most analysts and fans pointed to when assessing the team's prospects. As it played out, those concerns were validated. Pirates starters are posting the eighth highest ERA (4.76) in baseball.
"We had to recreate our starting rotation this year," Hurdle said. "As the season went on we found some pitchers that will help us moving forward. We took some chances on some things early that didn't work out like we anticipated."
The "chances" the Pirates took involved relying on Jon Niese, Juan Nicasio and Jeff Locke at the bottom of the rotation, with Ryan Vogelsong coming out of the bullpen. Collectively, the Opening Day bottom three accounted for 49 starts, 270 innings pitched, 5.40 ERA and -4.09 WPA.
With the additions of Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Williams, Drew Hutchison, and Steven Brault, much of the last quarter of the season has been spent trying to figure out what they have internally. In trading for Ivan Nova, the Pirates may have stumbled upon one important piece to next year's rotation -- that is, if they can sign him at a reasonable cost.
McCutchen also mentioned the importance of holding together a consistent core. Hurdle agrees, maintaining a reliable core can pay dividends.
"There are some strengths to continuity," Hurdle said. "There is some strength in teams that are building for championships that have a core group of players that stay together and remain together."
But Hurdle doesn't think that changing out members of the core is an excuse for what happened this season.
"I think it is interesting that the player's have their own perspective, their own lens, and I honor that," Hurdle said, when asked about McCutchen's quotes from Monday night. "Sometimes mine might not match up the same way theirs do."
As players grow in their careers, Hurdle said, they tend to have different perspectives of what is necessary for building a winning team. He pointed to the roster transitions that the last two World Series winners made before winning titles.
In the end, Hurdle suggested that the problem is not change itself, but the reaction to change.
"One thing that is certain about our game is that it's going to change and rosters are going to change," Hurdle said. "How you adapt and adjust to change is probably a better question to get answered, then just the fact that we had some changes."
Looking ahead, Hurdle expressed confidence in the team's offseason plans.
"I think we are well aware of what we need to do to improve and to be a championship level team," Hurdle said. "We'll start on that track when the season is over."
The Pirates are being blitzed by the Cubs this year. The season record stands at 13-3, with the Pirates outscored 103-60. Following a 12-2 throttling, the competitive gap between the clubs looks wide and, perhaps, increasing.
In the clubhouse after Monday night's loss, Andrew McCutchen leaned back in the chair by his locker and talked to a few members of the media about the question on everyone's mind: What do the Pirates need to do in order to compete with the Cubs in the future?
He wasn't in a hurry. He wasn't going through the motions of an interview. He wasn't frustrated. He was straightforward: It all starts with pitching and keeping the core intact.
"Look at teams that win, and look at their pitching staff," McCutchen said. "It's pretty well known, if you've got good pitching, you're going to win. You just look at the past, look at teams that win, look at [the Cubs] pitching staff. ...
In order to have a good team, you’ve got to keep the core group of guys. Teams that win, that’s what they do. They have those core guys. When guys go down, they have a guy to take their spot."
The Pirates’ center fielder believes the current core is good enough to compete. Now it is a matter of establishing consistency.
"We definitely have the pieces for that," McCutchen said. "We’ve just got to be consistent with it and consistent with the lineup, consistent with the team. Once you do that, it becomes – I won’t say easier, but almost second nature when you’re out there on the field."
Asked if he thought the Pirates had the financial resources to keep up with the big market, big spending Cubs, McCutchen deferred to the front office.
"I don’t know. I play with my team. I don’t make the decisions up top as far as who goes and who comes, but it is very important to have a core and to keep a core. That’s what a core is. It doesn’t change."
This year’s been particularly difficult because of all the changes, some of which were controllable and some not.
"It’s been a different year in the aspect of injuries, trades," McCutchen said. "It’s been different. It’s been a lot of in-and-out this year. That’s something that hopefully going into next season, when that time gets here, that we have our team and we know what we have, know what we need."
Finally, McCutchen emphasized that the first step is for every player to focus on how he can improve and, to that end, he knows that he has to return to career form.
"I've got to focus on me first," McCutchen said. "Keeping the focus on myself when the season's over. When Spring Training starts up, we'll see where we're at."
The game ended tonight and the Pirates lost 12-2. Here is a note.
Pirates blown out by the Cubs
For the fifth game in a row, a Pirates' starter didn't get out of the fifth inning. Chad Kuhl made through three innings before allowing the first seven hitters of the fourth to either reach base or clear the bases.
"I think it came down to that one inning," Kuhl said. "I just need to make sure I limit the damage."
Jayson Heyward led off the fourth with a single and Addison Russel followed with a walk. Then, and tell me if you'd heard this before, Albert Almora Jr. dropped a sacrifice bunt that turned into a hit because no one covered first.
"The hitter comes out and the barrel is pointed towards the first baseman, it's a drag bunt all of the way," Clint Hurdle said. "With more experience, the first baseman can see the bunt and knows he has to get back. Unfortunately, there are some experiences out there that John [Jaso] hasn't had enough of out there. He's learning hard and we're learning hard along the way."
For the season, the Pirates have allowed 27 hits on 118 bunt attempts for a .237 average. That compares to a .213 average for the rest of the league.
Anyway, the bases were loaded after the bunt. Javier Baez followed with a grand slam down the left field line on a 0-2 pitch. That made the score 5-0. The Cubs would load the bases five times throughout the night, plus bat around twice.
"You see where that ball is, that's not where John wants to throw it," Hurdle said. "That's where it ended up and that's what a number eight hitter at the major league level can do."
The Cubs strung together three more consecutive hits and the Kuhl was lifted for Zach Phillips. Steven Brault entered the game in the six and suffered through a 43 pitch, six-run inning.
"[Brault's] out there pumping everything he's got into it," Hurdle said. "Up here when you have to throw fastballs to major league hitters and they know it, I mean, it usually doesn't end well."
After that nothing much happened or mattered. It's probably worth noting that Jordy Mercer and Jung-ho Kang each committed errors, which added to the really poor baseball that's become too commonplace of late.
Matt Joyce hit a solo home run. David Freese also hit one. The Pirates have now hit 69 home runs at PNC Park this season, which is just three short of last year's total.
The Pirates recorded all 27 outs tonight.
Again, the final score was 12-2. The Pirates' Wild Card elimination number is two.
In the kind of game that makes you wonder just what the heck you're trying to accomplish sitting there watching it, the Cubs mashed 18 hits, put together innings of four and six runs each and dominated the Pirates, 12-2, at PNC Park on Monday night.
Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault each got lit up, for five and seven runs, respectively. Only three of Brault's runs counted as earned, thanks to a Jordy Mercer error in the sixth.
To start the fourth inning, Kuhl allowed six hits and hit a batter, putting the first seven men on base. The fourth of which, Javier Baez, whacked a grand slam into the left-field bleachers for a 5-0 Cubs lead. After Kuhl loaded the bases a second time, Zach Phillips came on and struck out Anthony Rizzo and got Willson Contreras to bounce into a double play to end the inning, then pitched a scoreless fifth. Phillips flashed his nice little curveball and, for the second straight outing, kinda sorta looked like someone who could make a case for a 2017 bullpen spot. I guess that's what we're getting by not packing it in and doing other things with our time. Zach Phillips intel.
Brault got tagged for six runs in the sixth, including a two-run homer by Kris Bryant and a RBI double by Albert Almora.
Matt Joyce and David Freese electrified the dozens still in attendance with back-to-back homers in the eighth, Freese's coming in a pinch-hit appearance.
Jacob Stallings went 2-for-2 in replacement duty, staying at 1.000 (3-for-3) for September. His dad is the new Pitt basketball coach, you know.
2016-09-26T18:44:37-04:00Glasnow needs to let it rip "Attack" is the operative word in the Pirates' organization when it comes to their young pitchers. At his weekly meeting with the press, Neal Huntington said that they are looking for Tyler Glasnow ramp up the aggression: "For some reason he backed off a little bit and instead of attacking he tried to pitch maybe more than we needed him to." Monday afternoon, Clint Hurdle paid Chad Kuhl the high compliment of commending his attacking style: "That's what I like about him, the honest self-evaluation and he attacks. He's going to attack." Attacking means "letting your stuff play," Hurdle explained. Pitching, in this context, means trying to be too fine. The analogy Hurdle used is the difference between a technical engineer and a freeform artist. One places emphasis on technique and precision; the other lets it rip in a fit creative explosion. One is cerebral; the other quiets the rational mind and relies on instinct and feel. The Pirates want the artist, not the technician. They believe Glasnow's raw stuff is major league ready, but he is getting in his own way. "We are trying to get this young man to gain the mentality of just going out and attacking," Hurdle said. "It's a ninth inning mentality. You're out to close the game one inning at a time." Sunday afternoon, there were "some sequences" where Glasnow attacked. But there were other times when he was "fine-tuning some things and he wanted to make sure he was executing pitches." The latter is mostly coming with men on base. "The running part probably seeped into it and probably affected his delivery and making pitches," Hurdle said. For his part, Glasnow is confident his stuff and, with it, an attacking approach will return sooner-than-later. "It'll come back," he said. "I know it will. I've been that guy." The key to coming back, as far as the Pirates are concerned, is for him to be more Jackson Pollack than Ole Singstad (H/T Bill Brink for the Singstad reference. Apparently, he is reading some book on engineering.) Extend Rodriguez? As has been well-noted, Sean Rodriguez is having a breakout season. In 320 plate appearances, he's posting a 130 RC+ and a soaring 43.9 hard-hit percentage. With the extensions of David Freese and Josh Harrison, plus the arrivals of Adam Frazier and Alen Hanson, it would appear the club won't have the resources, or need, to aggressively pursue keeping another utility player. And from Huntington's comments on the situation, it appears that Pirates won't be seriously involved in keeping Rodriguez around. "Sean's just done a remarkable job," Huntington said. "We'd love to have Sean remain in a Pirate uniform. Given what he's done this year, we would fully anticipate that there's going to be quite a market out there for him and he's going to have a pretty good opportunity to do some good things." Kingham next year's Taillon? The Pirates anticipate Nick Kingham joining the Pirates rotation at in 2017. It appears the right-hander will be given the opportunity to compete for a spot in spring training, but it is much more likely his window will open a deeper into the season. "We'll see (how) he comes into spring training," Huntington said. "I think it's more realistic to expect he'll need some time at the upper levels to get going, but we do anticipate he'll help us late next year or sometime next summer. Asked if Taillon is the "template" for Kingham, Huntington spoke to the specialness of the former. "Jameson is also pretty unique and a special guy, so to compare anyone to him is hard," Huntington said. "He's so mature, so driven it's almost unfair to compare people to him. We'll take Nick's progress at his pace and he'll show us where he's ready to go." [...]