Pirates Bullpen Shortens Game in Victory Over Cubs

The Pirates offense pounded out 12 hits, and the new and improved bullpen shut the door as the Pirates defeated the Chicago Cubs 7-5.

The top five hitters in the lineup combined to reach base eight times and drive in five runs, including solo home runs from Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen.

The offense got going early when Gregory Polanco greeted Cubs starter Dan Haren with a lead-off home run to give the Pirates the early 1-0 lead. That was just the beginning from the Pirates, as they were able to score runs in four separate innings and had at least one base runner in six of the eight innings.

Jeff Locke got off to an extremely efficient, effective start, only allowing one base runner through the first five innings. The wheels came off in the sixth inning, however. After administering his first free pass of the game, Cubs rookie Kyle Schwarber hit a hanging breaking ball into the centerfield seats, and one out later Anthony Rizzo hit a blast of his own into the right field seats, erasing the Pirates’ lead and tying the game at four.

The game turned into a battle of the bullpens, which favors the Pirates right now against almost any other team in baseball. The Pirates were able to score three runs off of the Cubs bullpen, while their own bullpen was able to shut the Cubs offense down. Antonio Bastardo got the Pirates out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth inning with just one pitch, which induced a harmless groundout, earning him the win.

Joakim Soria and Tony Watson combined to pitch two scoreless innings, and Mark Melancon earned the save in the ninth inning, giving up one meaningless run in the process.

This Bullpen Can Shorten Games

The injury to A.J. Burnett has left the Pirates with a lot of questions regarding the state of their starting rotation, and rightfully so. After Cole and Liriano, there is some instability and some inconsistency with Morton, Locke and Happ.

But the bullpen that Neal Huntington has built for the Pirates should ease a lot of minds and compensate for the weaknesses of this starting rotation. You saw what the bullpen is capable of doing in full force tonight, confirming that if the Pirates have the lead in the sixth inning, their chances of winning are pretty high.

“It was a strength before. There’s more depth to it now,” Hurdle said after tonight’s game regarding his bullpen. “We can use it a couple of different ways as well as we move forward. Hughes can become a wild card; Caminero has worked himself into a better place. We’ve got some different options to go to before that. I’m real pleased with the way it’s setting up.”

Hurdle has virtually any weapon he could possibly want from a bullpen at his disposal. Jared Hughes and his 62% ground ball rate has gotten the Pirates out of almost every jam he’s been he’s been asked to pitch through. Arquimedes Caminero seems to have corrected his mid-season mechanical issues, and can provide Hurdle with a strikeout if needed. If the Pirates have a lead through six innings, the combination of Soria, Watson and Melancon are going to shut the door just about every time.

The Pirates are in a unique situation where their starter really only needs to pitch five innings before turning it over to arguably the best bullpen in the National League. Most teams in baseball only have two or in some cases just one reliable relief pitcher to turn to late in games. The Pirates have at least four, and that takes a ton of pressure off of the back-end of the rotation to go deep into games.

“I think, if anything, it kind of irritates us a little bit, you know? Because we wanna pitch,” Locke laughed after the game. “We know how strong the bullpen is, but at the same time, I think if you look at it the way [the starters] think about it, we really need those guys down the stretch too. I was always told as a kid that the relievers are there for when the starter falters. Sometimes nobody falters and we just go to them anyways because they’re so strong.”

With this security blanket, the Pirates are in a better position to withstand the injury to A.J. Burnett.

  • The bullpen can definitely shorten the game, it also helps when the manager takes the starter out BEFORE the lead evaporates.

    • Locke in particular. looks great from the windup and early in game, but gives up hits from stretch and ball movement flattens out after the fifth inning.

  • IMO, unless he’s desperate to get work, Hughes role should mostly be limited to only that of fireman going forward. He’s simply an OK reliever when starting a clean inning (1.42 WHIP, .292 BAA, 3.06 ERA), but he’s vital as a fireman (1.11 WHIP, .189 BAA, 2.38 runs allowed, including inherited runners). Maybe he’s just wired that way.

    Was at the game and pretty much everyone holding their breath when Bastardo had to come in to clean up Hughes’ mess. Thankfully it was just one pitch.

    • I’m truly surprised Hurdle has gone back to Bastardo at all, let alone in leverage situations, after his mop-up implosion against the Reds last week.

  • You need to get some depth from your starters. 5 innings this time of year can prove disastrous by taxing a bullpen. Hopefully with Cole/Liriano they can get some length with their starters. One key is that the offense needs to provide plenty of insurance like tonight.

    • But with a day off as we have today, it’s always all hands on deck for the bullpen.

  • Could be by next year, maybe the year after, but in the near future these two teams will be the class of the NL Central. Possibly even MLB.

    Tons of established MLB All-Stars on the rosters and even more flourishing young talent on the way will relegate Cardinals to a 3rd place team before long.

    Going to be fun to watch.

    • The Pirates and Cubs are two of the best young teams in baseball, but I think the Pirates have the edge in pitching, now and in the future. The Cardinals have reloaded somewhat with guys like Grichuk and Wong, but they are a very “mature” group with Holliday 35, Peralta 33, Molina 33, and Carpenter nearing 30. The Reds may have started the year with the best overall talent in the Central, and a payroll that is ridiculous, but were not able to do anything.

      Don’t wait for the Cardinals to have any type of extended down period – they are not the Reds or Brewers. The historical competitiveness between St Louis and Chicago should drive both to spend freely, while the Pirates will do it the old-fashioned way by actually developing talent.

      • Scott Kliesen
        August 6, 2015 7:14 am

        Cardinals core is aging quickly. And as they’ve seen, older players are more prone to injury.

        I fully expect Cards to spend big to bring in talent to compete, but its unlikely they will do enough to keep either Pirates or Cubs at bay for long. Holliday, Waino, Molina, Lackey and Peralta are all on downslope.

        • They have some immediate decisions to make regarding John Lackey and Jason Heyward who will both be FA’s. Giving up Shelby Miller and years of control for 1 year of Heyward took a lot of stones, or stupidity.

      • Cubs severely overpaid Lester. Wonder what else they do on that front in FA?

  • I don’t think Jared looked to good tonight. That is 3 in a row where he has been shaky. Hope he doesn’t have an injury issue.