Last night the Pittsburgh Pirates were blown out in Milwaukee, thanks in large part to a lot of home runs by the Brewers. The obvious solution? Hit more home runs and beat them at their own game. Tonight the Pirates did just that. They combined for four home runs, which accounted for seven of their eight runs on the night. The only problem was Milwaukee hit three home runs, and combined for 12 runs on the evening.
The Pirates took an early lead in the first inning after a Starling Marte double eventually resulted in a run. Russell Martin followed Marte with a single, and Andrew McCutchen brought Marte in with another single. They probably should have had more than that, as you don’t usually expect one run when you begin the game with a double and two singles. Milwaukee came back big in the bottom of the second inning, scoring three runs.
The Pirates immediately battled back, as Gaby Sanchez hit a two run homer in the top of the third, tying the game at 3-3. Already it looked like a much different game than the night before. But then the Brewers reminded us that if you’re the Pirates, winning in Miller Park isn’t that easy. They added one run in the bottom of the third, and three more in the bottom of the fourth, taking a 7-3 lead.
Once again the Pirates battled back. On Monday the Brewers made an impact with back-to-back homers on two different occasions. This time it was the Pirates with back-to-back shots in the fifth inning from Russell Martin and Andrew McCutchen. The shot from Martin was his sixth of the year, and fifth since the beginning of last week. The shot from McCutchen was encouraging, as the Pirates’ star hasn’t been hitting anywhere near as well as he had been last year.
Starling Marte continued his #MartePartay in the sixth inning, hitting a three run homer with two outs to give the Pirates an 8-7 lead. The Pirates kept battling back to that point, setting them up to go with their big strength to close out the game: the bullpen.
The only problem was the bullpen didn’t come through. Vin Mazzaro came on in the sixth inning to relieve James McDonald. Mazzaro pitched to three batters, giving up a solo homer and two more hits before being removed for Bryan Morris. Morris got out of the inning, but gave up a solo homer of his own in the seventh inning to Yuniesky Betancourt, which is the most “Brewers take the lead from the Pirates” moment ever. The game got out of hand when Tony Watson came on in the bottom of the eighth and gave up three more runs, getting only one out. There was no comeback this time by the Pirates offense, and the Brewers went on to win 12-8.
James McDonald didn’t do himself any favors tonight. Photo by Mark Olson.
The Competitive Pitching Atmosphere
I talked yesterday about all of the pitchers who will be joining the team in the next two weeks, noting that the Pirates have so much depth that Charlie Morton might not have a rotation spot and Gerrit Cole might not be a guarantee to join the team this summer if he’s not developed 100 percent. Then I talked about all of the pitching depth in Indianapolis, which mostly consists of bullpen options, but also includes some additional starting depth.
The thing about all of that depth being held back is that it would only be held back if the guys in the majors are performing. That almost creates an extremely competitive pitching atmosphere where there’s no room for failure from the major league pitchers.
We’ve already seen some of that this year with Chris Leroux and Jonathan Sanchez. I feel that the Pirates moved on from them a lot quicker than they’ve moved on from guys in previous years. For that reason, guys who have been struggling on the major league roster can’t get too comfortable.
For example, James McDonald has seen his struggles this year. It didn’t help that he gave up seven runs on eight hits and five walks in five innings tonight. That’s especially true on a night where the Pirates finally had some offense against Milwaukee. If McDonald continues pitching like this, then it would probably be Charlie Morton going to the rotation, with McDonald going to the bullpen. The only starters who really have spots locked down are A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez.
Then there’s Mazzaro. Jose Contreras will be added to the roster on Friday, and someone is going to have to go. That could be Bryan Morris, Jeanmar Gomez, or Mazzaro. The last two outings from Mazzaro definitely aren’t making a strong case for him sticking around on the roster.
That’s also true of Tony Watson, who has been good at times this year, but has also struggled at times. Watson hasn’t looked like the 2011 or 2012 version that pitched in the majors. The Pirates have a lot of left-handed depth. There’s Justin Wilson, who is currently out-performing Watson in the majors. They also have Kris Johnson and Mike Zagurski in the minors, and Andy Oliver if they want to go the Justin Wilson-route with him.
Jared Hughes did well tonight, inheriting one runner and getting the final two outs for Watson. But Hughes has also been inconsistent this year, and doesn’t look like the pitcher he was last year. With all of that depth in Triple-A, it would be hard to keep Hughes in the majors if he keeps up the inconsistent performances.
Depth is a good thing to have, but the problem with depth is that you have to go through a lot of bad performances until you turn to it. You don’t want to make a switch after a few bad outings, since that would create an atmosphere where no pitcher had any margin for error. At the same time you don’t want to keep trotting a struggling pitcher out there over and over and continue to cost yourself games. Based on the moves with Sanchez and Leroux, it looks like the Pirates are leaning more towards the former than the latter in their approach with making a switch. That’s not good news for guys like McDonald, Mazzaro, Watson, and Hughes if they keep up with their current inconsistent performances.