Entering game action on Wednesday, Andrew McCutchen (.531 avg, 1.594 OPS) and Neil Walker (.490 avg, 1.357 OPS) were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the Majors in the month of July in average and OPS. But despite those two combining to go 0-for-8 on the day, Pittsburgh was still able to pull together a huge win in Colorado on Wednesday to take their 17th series win.
Perhaps another sign that things really are different this year.
When the 2012 season started, the strength of the club offensively was expected to be with small ball and speed. They would have to use their speedy players to their advantage, swipe bases, and timely sac bunts in order to plate runs. What many didn’t expect them to do is hit the long ball, but that’s exactly what they’ve been doing over the past few months.
In the month of April, the Pirates hit just 13 home runs, which ranked last in the Majors. But since then, the lumber bats have been out swinging. They hit 24 in May, 39 in June, and have 24 so far in July. Their 24 this month is tied for most in the Majors. And they continued at Coors Field on Wednesday in the 9-6 win.
The Pirates had 107 long balls over the entire 2011 season. After blasting four off the Rockies’ arms, they are just six shy tying last season’s total, and only 91 games in.
The first of the four bombs that the Pirates would connect for came in the second inning. Pedro Alvarez took a 1-1 fastball to left field — his 19th of the season. Of his last five hits, four of them have been long balls. Alvarez leads the Majors in home runs during day games with 13 and is hitting for a .292 clip in day games.
Garrett Jones was next. With two runners on base, Jones crushed a three-run shot which brought the game within a run at 5-4. The outfielder took a first pitch changeup for N0. 13 on the season. The long ball was part of a five run rally in the third frame, which chased Colorado’s starter Jeremy Guthrie from the game.
An opposite field homer from Casey McGehee was blasted in the fifth. The two-run home run was his eighth of the season and it also was the 100th hit by Pittsburgh on the season. Rod Barajas decided to join in the home run party and connected for his eighth of the season in the same frame. The Pirates hit four on the day for the fourth time this season.
The Pirates have gone deep in nine straight and in 20 of their last 22 games.
McDonald Battling Through Rough Stretch
The James McDonald we’ve seen on the bump for Pittsburgh over the last month has not been the dominant right-hander that didn’t allow more than three earned over his first 14 starts. On June 27, McDonald saw his first struggle of the season when he gave up four over 5.2 frames. He followed that up by allowing just three combined over his next 14.0 innings and headed into the All-Star break confident.
Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle decided to shuffle the rotation for the second half of the season and gave the No.1 starter nod to McDonald. The 28-year-old has been the ace of the staff for Pittsburgh in the first half, but has been battling through what is hoped to be a temporary rough stretch.
McDonald lasted just 4.2 innings in his last trip to the mound on Friday, and on Wednesday, gave up season-high in hits and runs at Coors Field.
The right-hander struggled from the get-go. He gave up a leadoff homer to Dexter Fowler on a 2-0 fastball, and followed that by issuing a four pitch walk, then two-run shot to Carlos Gonzalez. Of his first 10 pitches, McDonald threw eight of them for balls. He was able to retire his next three straight to end the inning, but needed 22 pitches to escape it.
Two more runs scored off McDonald in the second frame. Jordan Pacheco hit a hard hit liner off the glove of Clint Barmes at short for a single to start the second inning. Josh Rutledge followed for the second straight hit and smoked a double into right center field. After striking out his next batter, McDonald issued his second walk of the game to load the bases.
Marco Scutaro grounded to short to drive in the fourth run charged to McDonald. The club decided to intentionally walk Gonzalez to load the bases to face rookie Brown. But Brown took advantage of the situation and hit a sac bunt up the third base line for an infield RBI single. McDonald allowed five runs over his first two innings. It marked the first time the right-hander allowed more than four earned this season over 18 starts.
McDonald bounced back in the third and only gave up a single in the scoreless frame. He gave up his sixth run in the fourth inning, before tossing a scoreless fifth to end his outing. Overall, McDonald was charged with six runs on eight hits over five innings. He walked four and struck out two.
Lincoln Continues Strong Season No Matter the Role
Following McDonald in relief on Wednesday was Brad Lincoln, who continues to be dominant out of the bullpen. The right-hander tossed two scoreless innings, giving up just one hit while striking out two.
Lincoln allowed a solo-home run to Ryan Braun on Friday, his first career blown save and just his first run allowed in relief since May 9. His 0.61 ERA as a reliever leads the Majors and Lincoln has allowed one earned run in his last 17.1 innings of relief.
“Right now he’s wearing two hats,” Pitching coach Ray Searage said of Lincoln. “We tried to give him the one hat from the bullpen. If need be in a spot start, we know that he can make that transition. The first couple of times, it was tough for him to make that transition from the bullpen to the rotation. Now, he has a better idea. What happens, we’ll see. As for now, he’s one of our guys that will give us multiple innings. He’s like a jack of all trades out there in the bullpen. We can use him in different scenarios out there. If [Jason] Grilli needs a day off, or [Juan] Cruz needs a day off we feel we’ve got a capable candidate in Lincoln in the late innings.”