If there’s one thing I’ll never understand about the Pirates over the last few years, it’s their tendency to be borderline dominant when going up against an ace pitcher, only to get demolished by a guy who probably shouldn’t be in the majors. The last two nights were a prime example of this phenomenon.
Rodrigo Lopez, owner of a career 4.80 ERA, and who put up a 5.70 ERA in 30 innings in 2009, mowed down the Pirates on Friday night. Lopez pitched six innings, allowing one run on six hits, with five strikeouts. In his career, Lopez has a 6.0 K/9 and a 1.3 HR/9 ratio. On Friday he put up a 7.5 K/9 and probably should have allowed one homer to keep within his career ratios.
So what happens tonight? The Pirates go up against Dan Haren, one of the best pitchers in baseball, and hit him to the tune of six runs (five earned) on nine hits in 6.2 innings. Against Lopez, they can’t manage anything. Against Haren, they have no troubles at all. This isn’t new. The Pirates have had trouble against borderline fifth starters for awhile now, and it seems that they always bring their ‘A’ game when an ace is on the mound.
So what’s the cause of this? I have no statistical data to explain it. I have a few theories, but there’s no way to find out. Maybe it’s scouting. It would be easy to scout a guy like Haren, but a little harder to scout Lopez. Maybe it’s focus. You go in to the game knowing you need a big performance against Haren, and you probably don’t take that same approach against Lopez. If it’s one of those two things, it would be a concern. Then again, maybe it’s just something that’s coincidental (afterall, they did destroy Vicente Padilla and lose to Chad Billingsley), and only noticed when it happens.
It seems like this happens far too often for it to be chalked up to coincidence or selective memory. It’s also a major concern if this continues in 2010. If the Pirates ever want to be competitive, they need to capitalize on the easy match-ups against the Rodrigo Lopez’s of the world. If they can do it against Dan Haren and Clayton Kershaw, then there’s no reason why they can’t have a strong performance against a guy like Lopez.
As for tonight’s game, it was nice seeing Jeff Clement and Akinori Iwamura hit their first home runs as Pirates. I also continue to be impressed by the bullpen. It wasn’t exactly a small lead they were protecting, but they did a good job, especially with Javier Lopez and Brendan Donnelly getting out of jams in the eighth inning, and Octavio Dotel shutting the door in the ninth.