The McCutchen-less Pirates took on the Marlins and Padres this week at PNC Park, and struggled without Cutch and Walker.
After an off day on Monday, Tuesday saw the Pirates bullpen implode late. After Charlie Morton tossed 7 innings of one-run ball, the bullpen took over with a 2-1 lead. Miami sent 11 batters to the plate in the 8th and it took 4 Pirates pitchers to get through the inning. When the dust settled, the Marlins had put up 5 runs to take a 6-2 lead, and went on to win 6-3.
Wednesday was much better for the Bucs, with the offense busting out for 7 runs. The first four batters to face Tom Koehler reached base, including Ike Davis, who doubled home a pair of runs. Two more runs came around to score in the 1st, and Jeff Locke made it stand up. Locke’s success at home continued, this time with 7 punchouts in 7 innings. Miami got a run in the 1st and Christian Yelich took Locke deep for a two-run shot, but that was his only mistake pitch of the night. Russell Martin drove in a run in the 7th and Gaby Sanchez later doubled home two more, and the bullpen cleaned up after Locke exited to even the series.
Edinson Volquez absolutely shut down the fish on Thursday night, giving up just one hit in 7 scoreless innings. He K’d 7, and the offense provided him with more than enough support. Brian Flynn held the Bucs off the scoreboard until the 4th, when Russell Martin drove home the first run. Gregory Polanco‘s hot streak continued with a two-run single, and doubled home two more in the 8th for a career-high 4 RBIs. All 9 starters picked up a knock, with the exception of Volquez and Michael Martinez, who went 0-4. There was a scary moment in the 7th when Jordy Mercer hit a frozen rope right back up the middle that struck Miami reliever Dan Jennings in the head. Jennings looked like he had no idea where he was and it looked pretty bad, the next day it was reported that he *only* had a concussion, which considering the circumstances, seems like good news. After Justin Wilson set the Marlins down in order in the 8th, Stolmy Pimentel tried to complete the shutout in the 9th, but grooved a 3-2 fastball to Giancarlo Stanton, who took him deep for a two-run shot. Bucs went on to win 7-2.
The Padres, who have never lost a series at PNC Park, came into town for the weekend and Vance Worley welcomed them with 7 innings of one-run baseball. San Diego’s lone run came in the top of the 1st, but the Bucs quickly got two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Josh Harrison led off with a triple and Polanco singled him in. El Coffee then swiped second and advanced to third on an overthrow, and scored on an Ike Davis sac-fly. And that would do it for the offense. Ian Kennedy and Vance Worley put up zeroes the rest of the way, and the Bucs went on to win 2-1.
Saturday was nearly the same script, with all three runs scoring in the 1st inning. This time, it was the Padres who won 2-1. Eric Stults and Francisco Liriano, a pair of lefties, were both dominant and combined to give up only 4 hits in 13+ innings.
Sunday’s rubber match was not the Pirates’ best performance of the year. Some shoddy defense and some bad breaks led to the Padres winning 8-2, with the big blow being Seth Smith‘s bases loaded triple in the 5th.
3-3 in a week in which Cutch didn’t play at all and Walker only had one at-bat doesn’t seem too bad, but against the Marlins and Padres, you would expect better. The starting pitching was unreal this week, and will only get better when Gerrit Cole returns. The inconsistent bullpen and offense will continue to be a problem until something is done to address it. Pedro Alvarez is due to return to the lineup soon (at first base, apparently) and Walker is “heading in the right direction.) Cutch’s status is still up in the air.
Up next for the Pirates are four games with the Tigers and three in DC against the Nationals. This week actually marks the stretch of 22 straight games that the Bucs will play against the Tigers, Nationals, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds – all teams that are making a push for the postseason. Welcome to the pennant race.