Clint Hurdle is fond of saying that Pedro Alvarez can change the game with one swing of the bat, and I am fond of quoting Clint Hurdle saying that Pedro Alvarez can change the game with one swing of the bat.
In the Pirates’ 5-3 win Thursday over the Cincinnati Reds, Alvarez changed the game three different times. Let’s break out those fancy bullet points:
- 3rd Inning: Alvarez steps in to face Homer Bailey with two runners on and two outs. When he faced the same situation in the first inning, he whiffed on two Bailey fastballs to end the frame. This time, he lines a fastball above the belt into right field to score Andrew McCutchen and tie the score 1-1.
- 6th Inning: With the Pirates trailing 2-1, Alvarez comes up to lead off. The Bucs scored only one run in two earlier games this series, so there became a sinking feeling Bailey and the Cincinnati bullpen would ice away a series victory. Instead, Alvarez ties the game again by turning on an inside fastball and depositing it eight rows deep into the right-field seats for Home Run No. 16. All tied up again.
- 7th Inning: Two good hits deserve another. Once again Alvarez arrives with two outs, but this time the bases are loaded and rubber-armed lefty Tony Cingrani is looking to keep the game tied. Instead, Alvarez ropes a fastball thrown over the heart of the plate, sending it into the right-field corner to clear the bases and put the Pirates up for good. Greg Brown called Alvarez “Raging Bull!” and that’s pretty much dead-on.
Prior to Thursday’s game, the Pirates went just 4-for-25 with runners in scoring position (a scoring change gave Russell Martin a hit and RBI for ricocheting a comebacker off Arroyo after it was originally an error). The issue continued in the final game of the series, as every Pittsburgh player not named Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Pedro Alvarez’s directive is quite simple: drive in those nice gentlemen that find themselves standing on or near bases. He now appears to be locked into the No. 6 spot in the lineup behind Jones/Sanchez and Walker/Martin, giving him plenty of chances to finish off Pirates’ runs with his bat. It can be very draining to watch Alvarez swing, come up empty and strike out one out of every three times he comes to bat. But when El Toro is feeling it, you have to pay attention to every plate appearance because pretty much any outcome can happen.
Other important takeaways from Thursday:
- Starling Marte is settling into a nice groove at the plate with two more hits Thursday. His .347 on-base percentage this season is right about league average for leadoff hitters this year, which is just about all you can ask of Marte in his first full season at the top of the order.
- Homer Bailey hit Andrew McCutchen (likely unintentional) in the butt during the first inning, the 19th hit-by-pitch between the Reds and Pirates this season.
- Round of applause for Brandon Cumpton. His only earned run allowed Thursday was a home run given up to Jay Bruce, which is something that Jason Grilli does, so Cumpton should not feel too bad. Cumpton allowed five hits in five innings, struck out Xavier Paul twice and Brandon Phillips once, and also got seven groundouts. If Cumpton is heading back to Indianapolis, since the Pirates only need four starters over the next week, he just completed a fine audition to return later in the season.
- Tony Watson got the final six outs of the game to pick up the save. Somehow Watson’s reputation among Pirates fans has gone from “serviceable reliever” to “one of the worst in the bullpen,” which seems odd to me. He is probably a below-average reliever as those folks come, but he gets decent results against both lefties and righties. Really, he is the same pitcher he has always been: a decent flyball pitcher that will get some strikeouts too. Watson’s walk totals are down this year, which is an improvement, and he will continue to be a useful middle reliever if nothing more.
- At the start of the day, there was a 76% chance the NL Wild Card game would include at least one NL Central team and a one-in-three chance the matchup would be Pirates vs. Reds. Yes, we are still more than three months away from the postseason, but it is intriguing that the league is already stratifying into levels on June 21 that make it a pretty good possibility the Wild Card Coin Flip Game will be between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.