A.J. Burnett didn’t have a good day. He was rocked in the third inning, but the struggles started before that. James Santelli has the full breakdown of what led to Burnett’s struggles on the day. That poor third inning, combined with the fact that Burnett was struggling prior to the inning, raises the question of why he wasn’t pulled earlier.
Things didn’t look good when he walked Adam Wainwright to start the inning. That was followed by a single from Matt Carpenter past a diving Neil Walker. Things really started to fall apart when Carlos Beltran crushed a three-run homer, putting the Cardinals up 3-0 with no outs and the heart of the order up.
That’s when I would have gone to the bullpen. Not to replace Burnett, because you don’t pull one of your top pitchers in the third inning, even after a three-run homer. You let him try to battle back. However, Burnett had been shaky the whole day, so at the least you should get someone warming up in the bullpen. The Pirates didn’t.
“Please, put it all on me,” Clint Hurdle said after the game, on leaving Burnett in for so long. “That was my decision, so as I’ve told you guys as to the fault at our club, when we win, give the players all the credit; when we lose, give the manager all the blame.”
After Burnett gave up the homer, things continued to spiral out of control. Matt Holliday lined a double to right field. Still no one warming up.
Burnett hit Matt Adams with a wild 1-0 curveball. Still no one warming up.
Yadier Molina drew a walk on six pitches.
Unfortunately, it was too late. Burnett walked Jon Jay on six pitches to bring in the fourth run. Then David Freese singled down the first base line to bring in three runs, with one run scoring on a throwing error by Marlon Byrd. And that was all for Burnett.
“Given the situation, with A.J. and his work, we felt that we were going to give him that last hitter, Freese, get the ground ball double-play, see if we could get some balance and keep the game right there where it was,” Clint Hurdle said about why he left Burnett out for so long. “Three feet to the left, ball is by us. Three more runs score after that.”
The problem with that thought process is that even if Freese hits into a double play, you’re still giving up another run, unless one of those outs is at home. And then what happens with Burnett? Does he remain in the game the next inning, or get pulled anyway?
He didn’t get the double play, and Jeanmar Gomez came in. Gomez needed two batters to warm up, although to be fair, those batters saw a combined 11 pitches. Gomez came in and retired three in a row, although again out of fairness, two of those hitters were the No. 8 hitter and the pitcher. He then retired the side in the fourth, giving up only a two-out single. He gave up an unearned run in the fifth, although that might not have scored if it wasn’t for a Clint Barmes throwing error on what would have been a double play. Adam Wainwright was due up next, and the double play would have made it two outs. Overall Gomez went four innings, giving up two runs, one earned.
You can’t assume that Gomez would have gotten out of the jam if he was brought in earlier in the fourth inning. But how might it have looked if he was brought in earlier, or at least warmed up earlier?
Let’s say he gets up after the home run from Beltran. He probably would have been warmed up after the walk to Molina, which is the perfect time to go to the bullpen for a replacement (instead of going to the bullpen to start getting someone warmed up). If you do this, you possibly avoid the four runs that followed from Jon Jay and David Freese. Gomez might not have gotten out of the jam unscathed, but he would have had a better chance than Burnett had. That’s not hindsight, since anyone could clearly see Burnett didn’t have it today.
If Gomez does get out of the inning, then the Pirates are only down 3-0. That might change the way they approach the game on offense the next few innings. If you add the two runs that scored off Gomez, and remove Wainwright after seven, then they’re down by four runs instead of eight with two innings to go. Both of those deficits are bad. Only one is insurmountable.
There were a lot of reasons the Pirates lost today. Leaving Burnett out there for a few extra batters didn’t make the difference in the score. But it certainly changed the entire landscape of the game going forward. The Pirates might have had a chance to come back down 3-0 after three. Instead, the game was pretty much over after the third.