The Pirates are going through a rough stretch. After getting shutout 11-0 to Los Angeles on Tuesday, Manager Clint Hurdle said “it is our worst patch of play probably during the season.” While the starting staff and bullpen has been struggling, the offense hasn’t been able to click consistently either.
The club has lost five of their seven games. During that stretch, the starters have combined to post a 6.75 ERA (30 ER over 40 innings), and haven’t had a quality start from their starter since August 8 when Kevin Correia allowed three earned over six frames. The offense has scored a combined 33 runs during those seven games averaging 4.7 runs.
“Just show up tomorrow and get the win,” Andrew McCutchen said, who had a rare 0-for-4 night. “That’s it. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we play so many games. Every game means a lot. It’s a big loss today, bad we lose, but we’ve got to show up tomorrow and get ready to win. You’ve just got to take it day by day. You can’t worry about what went wrong, what could have went our way, what should have went our way. You can’t worry about those games. It’s the game of baseball. You’ve got to continue just going out and staying positive.”
“There’s not any guys that probably haven’t gone through it,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “This is a great experience that we’re going through. Anybody that thought this was going to be easy, for us to move through, the history that we’ve got here that a lot of us aren’t even tied to, and the season we’re having, you think this is going to be easy? No. It’s not. It’s going to be hard. Right now, we’ve got a lot of hard going on. You’ve got to embrace the hard.”
“What does the guy say in the [movie the] Godfather? ‘This is the life we’ve chosen.’ This is the life we’ve chosen. It’s hard right now. Figure it out. We’ve got to play better. That’s it. This is the time that’s going to get your attention.”
Correia was the latest allowing six runs over six frames during the rough stretch of games that have now pushed them to six games back in the National League Central, but still have a half game lead for the second spot in the Wild Card after being shutout by the Dodgers.
“Kevin’s line is hard to read,” Hurdle said. “The one inning, four balls were hit on the ground and never leave the infield. The only pitch he wants back in the sixth inning is probably the breaking ball to Cruz. That’s it. The only inning he had the ball up was the sixth. He made pitches, got soft contact.”
The outing started off efficient, needing just 16 pitches over his first two perfect innings, just five in the second. Correia gave up his first earned run in the third.
The inning started with a leadoff single to left field. Correia walked his next batter on a full count pitch, and both runners advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt from pitcher Chad Billingsley. Shane Victorino, who hurt Jeff Karstens with three RBI on Monday night, picked up another after hitting a ground out to second base to push Luis Cruz past home plate.
A strange sequence of events followed in the next inning.
Matt Kemp reached first base on a line drive infield single off the glove of Pedro Alvarez. After Andre Ethier hit a grounder to second, Neil Walker fielded the ball and tagged Kemp, but the center fielder slammed into him and the ball dropped out of his glove. Hurdle argued, but the play was ruled a fielder’s choice with an error putting two runners on and no outs.
“Tag’s put on him, ball dropped,” Hurdle said. “Hands not in the glove, he wasn’t taking it out. I tried every defense I could come up with out there. I looked back at the replay, we had a play to make an out and weren’t able to make it.”
The next batter hit a slow grounder that Correia and Alvarez both waited to roll foul, but slowly stopped just fair for an infield single to load the bases. The Dodgers capitalized on the bad calls as James Loney drove in a run with a ground out, and Cruz drove in the other two with a base hit to left field.
“Those things happen,” Hurdle said. “What we’ve got going on right now is some hard. Every team I’ve been on has a patch of play like this, where you catch us in this time you go, ‘those guys are terrible.’ But you see it. And we know what we’re dealing with and we’ve just got to find a way to turn it around. That’s all. At the end of the day, that’s what you’ve got to do. I’ve seen a bunch of other teams this year when you watch the tape and I go, ‘Oh, my goodness. They’re having a tough time right now.’ Right now, you watch this tape, guys are going to be saying, ‘they’re having a tough time right now. Things aren’t going well for them. They’re not playing very well.’”
Correia retired six straight before giving up back-to-back hits in the sixth. A third straight knock plated the fifth run of the game (fourth earned). Then A.J. Ellis hit a sac fly to deep center field to plate the sixth. Overall, Correia allowed six runs (five earned) on seven hits over six frames with a walk and three strikeouts.
Left-hander Jeff Locke followed in relief and tossed another two scoreless innings, allowed just one hit. He’s combined for 4.1 scoreless since his promotion on Thursday.
Hurdle believes that the experience in the second half of last season, when the Bucs collapsed after the extra-inning loss in Atlanta, will help them be able to fight their way out of the rough patch they are in. But no where in the dugout, clubhouse or on the field does the skipper see them down or giving up.
“I don’t see intervals just outside themselves trying to do too much,” Hurdle said. “I see collectively a lot of guys in a blender right now…The guys in there, they’re all in. They’re going to keep battling. That’s one thing I’m not worried about. We’ve worked too hard and earned our way to this point. We’ve just got to figure out a way to put a foot down here and get back playing better baseball.”
“Quitting? Never. Down that we can’t turn it around? No. Absolutely not. That’s what makes the game so great and so challenging. And that’s where we are right now.”
“We’re doing a lot better than we were last year,” McCutchen said. And it’s true. The Pirates were 55-60 at this point last season and sit at 64 and 52 with the loss today. “We’re still playing good ball. We’re still in a good position. We’re still right where we need to be. It’s not like we’re 30 games out of it. We just need to keep fighting and we need to keep playing like we’re the team that everybody was scared to play against. That’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”
Cruz in a Good Spot with his Health
Juan Cruz has made back-to-back appearances since coming off the disabled list on Sunday. On Monday, the right-hander allowed a hit over a scoreless frame. In his outing on Tuesday, Cruz worked himself into a jam. He retired the first batter he faced, then walked his next, plunked the third and issued another free pass to load the bases before Tony Watson came in for relief.
Cruz was charged with one run after Watson gave up a bases loaded single. Watson retired the next two batters, cleaning up the mess on the bases that Cruz made. Although the shaky outing yesterday, Hurdle said he’s in a good place.
“The velocity was there,” Hurdle said. “I think he was all around the plate. Just some real close misses. But the velocity was good, he said he felt good today…Right now, I think we feel like we’re in a pretty good spot with him and his health.”
The Cincinnati Reds won 3-0 against the New York Mets on a walk off home run by Jay Bruce. The Reds now have a six game lead in the NL Central.
NL Wild Card
The Atlanta Braves beat the San Diego Padres 6-0. They are three games ahead of the Pirates for the top Wild Card spot.
The San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals 6-1. The Giants are tied with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West, and both teams are half a game behind the Pirates for the second wild card spot.
The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-2. The Cardinals are now one game behind the Pirates for the second wild card spot.