It irritates me when I do not post a game recap, because then the right side of the site has an old story under PIRATES GAME RECAPS, and that’s just no good. So let’s go over the important takeaways from this 4-1 Pirates loss on Sunday, utilizing the “Three Quick Thoughts” style of Sports Illustrated‘s Grant Wahl.
1. Justin Wilson’s trouble locating pitches lost the afternoon for the Bucs. Oh well. The left-handed reliever has benefitted from the most luck of any pitcher in the Pirates’ bullpen this season. He entered Sunday with an incredibly low .181 BABIP, 88% strand rate and had allowed only home run over 35 innings. Even giving up four hits and three runs in relief of Jeff Locke, his ERA leaps to a still phenomenal 1.98 on the season.
Wilson came out firing 98 miles per hour in the 6th inning to strike out Starlin Castro and keep the game tied at Wrigley. The next inning, though, he left several fastballs over the plate from the middle-to-upper half of the zone. Cody Ransom pounded one of those fastballs just over the ivy in left field for a three-run home run. While he has to be disappointed to get the loss on a day the Pirates were looking to finish a road sweep of the Cubs, it’s just the way regression works. Wilson continues to have closer-type stuff, but his command is still being worked on.
2. Jeff Locke walked a team-high seven hitters but still took a no-hitter into the 6th. He became the third Pirates pitcher in as many games to no-hit the Cubs for four innings, even though his location chart looks like either a shotgun blast or the work of Tim Wakefield in his rookie season. Locke threw only 52 strikes in his 100 pitches, but spread out his walks pretty well. The left-hander kept the Cubs off the board until a sacrifice fly in the 6th inning tied the contest. One batter later, Dioner Navarro got the first Cubs hit to hasten Locke’s removal.
The Pirates’ starter also collected six strikeouts but only one after the 2nd inning. His strikeout rate has improved mightily over the last few starts, calling back to the pitcher who averaged just below one strikeout per inning in Triple-A last year. Locke’s peripheral stats still point to regression, and I’m more likely to best on his rest-of-season ERA being closer to 3.98 (his season FIP) than to 2.39 (his season ERA). But he now has the look of a league-average pitcher, a mid-rotation starter that would be incredibly useful for the Pirates.
3. The hitters better put it together on the upcoming homestand. The Pirates’ lineup garnered only six hits today, even if some credit must be given to Cubs starter Edwin Jackson (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K). That 5.76 ERA Jackson holds this year does not come close to reflecting his true ability.
For the first time on a road trip all season, the Bucs did not reach double-digit hits in any game. Pittsburgh averaged 6.2 hits and 2.5 runs per game on the trip to Atlanta and Chicago. That, to use a technical term, ain’t good. The issues I brought up earlier this week about the Pirates’ offense still stand. I will point out another problem: they are making contact on the lowest percentage of pitches outside the strike zone in MLB. The hitters either better start swinging at fewer bad pitches (especially Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte) or fouling more of those pitches off or maybe a combination of the two. If any lineup help rides in on a white horse, that horse isn’t due to be delivered until late July. Time to Buc up and capitalize on poor-performing Giants and Dodgers pitchers.