PITTSBURGH – Well, at least fewer people saw this loss against the Cubs than the last one.

That represents a thinly veiled attempt at context for the Pirates’ 7-2 home loss Monday night to the Chicago Cubs, their first crack at them since the 2015 Wild Card Game.

In every year previous to this, a May loss to the Cubs at PNC Park would be treated with an attitude of “ah well, get ’em next time.”

Problem is, this year, early season Pirates-Cubs games take on more significance, both in perception and the cold-hard standings, than they have in…

((clicks through Baseball-Reference seasons pages))

… 43 years!

Truly every win or loss has a substantive effect on the Bucs’ chances of making the elusive 8-team tournament known as the “real” MLB Playoffs, so every win or loss merits dissection.

Make You Lose Control

Let’s dispense with the obvious, Pirates starter Gerrit Cole was bad Monday night. But not just in the most apparent way of five earned runs in 4.2 IP, tied for the most since he reached the Majors.

It was also the fact that Cole walked four batters for only the second time in his MLB career (this one the worse in terms of walk percentage), allowed three steals (“We got abused there,” Cole said) and hit a guy (with a baseball).

“There really wasn’t a whole lot of command, period. Didn’t really have anything we could go to,” Cole said. “A lot of high and right misses, a lot of pulls.”

Furthermore, two of those walks were with the bases empty, a seeming desire to not challenge Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant, or more charitably a loss of rhythm for a pitcher usually adept at throwing strikes.

Manager Clint Hurdle is fond of looking at three-ball counts as an indicator of command. Cole was awful in that area: he got to a three-ball count 8 times over 25 batters.

“He was out of sync,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “Just didn’t have it tonight. The fastball command wasn’t available.”

Anything in the pitch-by-pitch data we can identify as a concern? Not particularly, through my amateur eyes.

  • Cole threw a lot of fastballs, especially early (his first 10 pitches and 16 of his first 17 were all fastballs).
  • The velocity was up: Cole sat 96 and hit 99 MPH, but I wouldn’t characterize it as necessarily a more hittable fastball in that way.
  • That said, all the hits Cole gave up were on the fastball, except for one slider. So what do I know?
  • Slider looked sharp, though — 7 whiffs on 21 pitches with it.

“I’m feeling good physically,” Cole said. “It boils down to fastball command. At my best, I have an established strike zone in all four corners… [The Cubs] aren’t going to swing at stuff that’s not in the zone.”

Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few

The only reason that I wrote in the previous section “five earned runs in 4.2 IP, tied for the most since he reached the Majors” instead of “six earned runs in 4.2 IP, most since he reached the majors” was because of a bad Josh Harrison throw. The Pirates infield tried to cleverly extinguish a double-steal, instead they got burned. ‘Twas ever thus.

“The league will keep running [double steals] against us until we stop it,” Hurdle said.

Also, Kyle Lobstein threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score, but he ate up three innings while most Pittsburghers had already turned their full attention to the Penguins game.

A Note on Jason Hammel

I’d be remiss if I didn’t spare some pixels on Jason Hammel, because we will no doubt see him again under important circumstances, as we look ahead to 18 more games against the Cubs.

This is thinking out loud: Are we positive that Jason Hammel is good? Like, absolutely certain?

The dude has now made 228 starts in the Major Leagues (I’m including the playoffs, because apparently we have to do that with the Cubs now), and yet all our top scientists are still unable to determine whether or not he is genuinely a good pitcher.

https://twitter.com/whygavs/status/727327375055310848

Hammel used his off-speed stuff well, only giving up RBIs to Andrew McCutchen, and one of those was the first home run Hammel has allowed since last September.

If he continues to not give up homers, he’ll be a great pitcher. And if I had Channing Tatum’s body, I’d have a date tonight instead of covering this baseball game.

I’ve never been good at analogies.


Yes, “every game matters” in a very cliché sense. The games against the Cardinals and Cubs matter more for what the Pirates hope to accomplish this year. We both know this.

So as much as you could “ah well, get ’em next time,” fact is the Pirates now have to be five games better than the Cubs for the rest of the season to win an outright division title.

And soon Penguins fans will actually be watching.

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87 COMMENTS

  1. I have to admit that I’m impressed how the Pirates’ hitters have adapted to the new hitting strategy with the lineup optimization along with a “get on base approach” – we have faired much better than I would have thought. I would still be screaming to move Polanco up in the order except……..no nevermind I’m still screaming it, move him up please…..except against lefties.

  2. With all due respect to Travis Sawchick trying to resurrect 2012 Justin Verlander, is Rasiel Iglesias the best starter the Buccos have faced so far? Maybe Jordan Zimmerman or Patrick Corbin?

    I’m not so worried about the results of these three games – the Cubs are highly, highly likely to win the Division regardless – but it sure would be comforting to see this offense succeed against actual decent pitching, not the arms of rebuilding teams they’ve largely faced so far.

    • Best in terms of current stats so far this season? Add Wacha to the list.

      But what a weird season. Anyone relishing facing Waino and Shields would have been called nutty, but we hit both around well enough yet they both have been bad thus far (or for Shields, periph bad).

        • I get your point, im more or less just pondering how weird some “above average” arms have started the year.

          I predicted some regression for Waino, but not this. The ERA’s of some good arms, who are throwing out fine periphs, is weirdly high. Price-Kluber-Greinke-Keuchel.

    • Besides losing to the Reds & Brewers and losing in alot of extra inning games like last year, losing to rookie pitchers with the lineup that we have has been another Achilles heel. We are still losing to the Jimmy Nelsons! Now Adlemans! I would also like us to stand a chance against the Zimmermans and Arrietas which we have been showing no threat! Good point NMR!

      • Credit where it’s due, though. They sure aren’t struggling to pile on some of the back end starters and AAA arms that have made up the vast majority of pitching they’ve been seeing, and like you mentioned, even those guys have given them trouble in the past.

  3. I’m glad the Penguins had my full attention last night. I hope Cole gets out of this funk he’s in.

  4. Cole is just not a reliable starter to win these types of big games. Okay look through every game he has pitched to prove me wrong but before you do it, ask yourself who would you rather have pitching for your team to win a must game and then go over all the number one starters in the NL or AL for that matter and see where in your mind he would place. He is good, yes even very good at times but he just does not seem to have it in him to win the biggest of big games. If the Cubs win all the games in this series they may have just clinched the division.

  5. Call me crazy…..but Gerrit Cole was SCARED!!! I never thought I would say or see that!!! To have that confidence in him and him let us down last night was disappointing!! But I’m a team player and just like Brother-Sister love….I’m not going to let anyone talk trash about him!! We family and I will be on the Cole Train the next time out!!! But if talk about taking the division, then we need to slap the shit out of the Cubs everytime we play them to make sure they know we are here to stay!!

    • You are not crazy. I was at the game he looked like he was lost. He was probably working for Boras to change the arb rules or the minor league draft. This guy needs to figure out if he wants to pitch for the Pirates, represent the union or be a shill for Boras. Get your head out of the clouds and pitch!

      • Dont we think we might be going a bit too far with this one?

        He played bad, and deserves to get crap for playing bad. But its daytime radio worthy to long jump from there to “his head isnt in it and likely was worrying about his contract, he needs to stop being a shill and focus.”

  6. I used to like Joe Maddon but now I cannot stand him, especially after the Kung incident. He is a foul mouthed jerk. That said he is a better coach than Hurdle and sure knows how to get the best out of his players

    • Don’t like the dude at all!!! He’s is the biggest jerk out there!!! That challenge last nite was awful!!!! That’s like calling a timeout in basketball up 20 with 30 seconds left!!! He knew what he was doing !!!

      • Yes but when you get slapped and lay down and rollover you deserve it! This team looked weak last night.

      • To me it looked like both guys were safe. Baez’ foot definitely came off the bag early, and I think Rogers DID beat that throw to first. It was close, but it looked like a tie.

    • Had to laugh when he shouted “f*** you” to Lobstein two times. So you’re allowed to plunk our star players and we can’t retaliate? Hey, Maddon, “f*** you.”

      • And furthermore, a manager really shouldnt be the one engaging in that with said player. I think thats why Hurdle was as animated as he was, seeing an opposing manager shouting at a player.

        Unless its really, really over the line I dont see any reason a manager should be shouting at an opposing player. If anything, shout at the opposing manager if you think its intentional.

  7. “Are we positive that Jason Hammel is good?”

    If Jeff Locke is a “good #4”, then Jason Hammel is basically ’99 Pedro.

  8. Cubs lineup is a tough matchup for anyone , especially Cole. He has no out pitch versus lefties. Does not throw his changeup enough whether it be from a lack of comfidence in it or it just is not very good. Fowler , Rizzo , and Zobrist are all fastball hitters and Cole just kept serving it up to them , except on Fowler’s first hit. You cannot just keep throwing 96 MPH fastballs up there and expect to get away with it. Maybe Huntington has living proof in Cole why Glasnow needs to get the changeup working before he is called up.

    • Rizzo’s double was an absolute laser on a 96 mph fastball. You can’t throw fastballs with no movement into a good hitter’s wheelhouse. He’ll crush it every time. Actually, none of Cole’s fastballs seemed to have any movement. Just a dreadful performance from the Pirates all the way around.

      • His fastball does seem to have lost some movement going back to the end of last year, and the more he forces it the harder he gets hit.

    • I mean, Cole has a .288 wOBA against and 23.3% K-rate vs LHB compared to a .289 wOBA against and 23.5% K-rate vs RHB, so he pretty clearly is doing *something* to get lefties out, but there’s no question the game calling last night was strange.

  9. Was Channing Tatum that actress who played in the Bad News Bears and why would you want here body?

  10. I sincerely hope more fannies are in seats at tonight’s game. Last night’s game could’ve been played at a local high school based on the number of fans there appeared to be on my tv.

    No wonder Nutting doesn’t spend more on salaries when the team’s local fan base abandons him for a hockey game.

          • Pittsburgh is a football town. Hockey, and apparently baseball, are just a distraction.

            • uh….no. That’s just because the steelers have been better for a long time and hockey just isn’t as mainstream. It’s absolutely a hockey town without a doubt. Has been since Mario

            • Pittsburgh maybe football first but judging by the consecutive sellout streak going for the Pens and the fact that it’s the second round of the playoffs… I love the Pirates. I’m a lifelong fan and buy the MLB.tv package to watch them. I’m sorry, but, game 26 in the regular takes a back seat to the 2nd round of the NHL playoffs.

        • And the Cards have one how many World Series since the last time the Bucs won any sort of pennant? St Louis and Cincy are true baseball towns. Pittsburgh is 1. Steelers 2. Pens 3. Pirates. Win something and get back to me.

    • You do realize the Pens are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs!?!?!?!?!? This is a hockey town. Yet you spin it on Nutting being cheap…Good God!

    • It was drizzling the whole game and many of us were working the dial on the best Stanley Cup matchup this year AND the Bucs.

    • Assholes who stay at home on a Monday night for things like kids and families and not being sports fans. Who do they think they are?

      • Does Pittsburgh have more “assholes” than places like St. Louis?

        I say it’s time for Pirates fan base to embrace the team despite what other things are going on in life. Especially if your one of the Nutting is cheap cackling hens!

        • Pittsburgh metro area population: 2.36 million
          St Louis metro area population: 2.81 million

          So STL has a bigger population to work from, and we are now looking down on people for other things in life but baseball. We will be okay.

          • I see your point, but it was shocking to see an empty stadium nonetheless. Fact is, if those who complain about Pirates not spending don’t support team on a night when your Ace is pitching vs your chief rival, you forfeit your right to bitch.

            No matter the weather, the calendar, or hockey team.

            • I see it’s not enough for people to pay for his damn stadium in the first place.

              Yeah, that’ll resonate with a lot of folks.

            • Penguins home game – school night – not really very nice weather. If you do a bit of research before you rant you would no that the Pirates are 4th in baseball in increase in home attendance at about 4K per game. I think most teams in the north would love play fewer home games in April and May and more in the summer/september

            • 40 degrees and raining…………why in hell would anyone go to that game? That is not exactly a family atmosphere.

        • They are……..on TV. Good God man, have you seen traffic going into the city? You want people to go to baseball games, have 8 of them per year only, all on sundays……..then people will show up.

  11. Time to re-visit the “personal catcher” approach and have Stewart behind the dish for Cole? What could it hurt? I love Cervelli and he’s clearly the #1 catcher for this team… But Cole and Stewart had something working last year if memory serves.

    GO BUCS. Eff the Cubs.

    • If you’re going to blame Cervelli, you might as well just distract your self with something else. Cole was all over the place if you were actually reading which you werent.

      • Dale may be right though…Cole and Cervelli just don’t seem to mesh and it may contribute to Cole’s demeanor and command when Cervelli catches. Two dominate personalities bouncing off each other.

        • I can see a tad bit difference between the two. You would think by now they would be on the same page by now but at the same time Coles pitch location was nowhere near Cervelli glove. Cole was scared to attack the box!

          • why would they be? Cervelli I think only caught 1 or 2 of Cole’s games last year……how exactly would you expect them to be on the same page?

            • He’s been catching him since the end of August/September! I think they’re good. Just remember who had the rust coming in.

  12. Great. Pirates lose the first game against the weakest pitcher in the Cubs Big Three and now get to face Arrietta and Lester in the next two games while we counter with Niece and Nicasio. Sounds like a sweep to me IF the Pirates don’t start putting it all together!

    And we now have to ask ourselves if Garret Cole is for real in BIG games? Based on a two game sample vs. the Cubs in big games, he looks lost, nervous and very hittable. Ok, let’s give credit to the Cubs lineup, but Cole was supposed to be able to pitch to any lineup and keep the Pirates at least competitive? He’s failed miserably in two big games. Doesn’t build any confidence that he can ever pitch a big game vs. Cubs or anybody else?

  13. Cole was dreadful tonight….could not even outpitch the Cubs #4 starter at home….Cole is a good, often times very good, starting pitcher. But, he needs to step up be the guy – a true ace. I seldom see him totally dominate a lineup and he just seems to lack that killer instinct that you would expect from someone with his stuff. I remember when he was at UCLA, that was the knock on him – that he seemed to get hit harder than he should – for someone who has his stuff and velocity. Very disappointing start to a very big 3 game series.
    Plus, two more errors – 6 now in two games. Three more steals against. The FO failed miserably in addressing the sub par defense, other than at first base, as well as the backend of the starting rotation. It may be early in the season, but these games count as much as the ones in September – and I don’t want to see this team wind up 1-2 games short of avoiding the dreaded and absurd one game wild card playoff game. The Cubs starting pitching, and bullpen, is light years ahead of the Pirates right now. The Cubs have been winning with pitching, because most of their hitters have gotten off to very slow starts – Bryant, Heyward, Rizzo, Russell, etc.

    • Spot on analysis BF. I remember thinking when they took him “when has he dominated?” Ok great stuff but shouldn’t he have been dominant at some point in college?
      Big game? I wouldn’t trust that he would come up big. I would trust Frankie in a big game before I would trust Cole.

      • I wouldn’t trust frankie against indianapolis in a big game, he’s a complete and total wildcard. The only way you put in Frankie is if it’s a team full of lefties or if you can only win the game with a dominant first 6 innings.

      • Much too early for jumping ship, but this team played a very lackadaisical game against the Reds on Sunday, and today’s game was not much better. Some thoughts . .

        Harrison gets to more, and has hit well, but 5 errors already?

        Our No. 3 hitter is 9th or 10th on the team in RBI?

        Our No. 1 and No. 2 Pitchers in the Rotation have as many QS as our No. 4 and No. 5 Pitchers – is consistency a good thing?

        How many .300+ hitters in a lineup can hit a curve?

        Times up, and I have not even been able to address the bullpen.

    • Cole needs to get his emotions under control. He will never be an elite pitcher until he does.

    • Their batting averages are down but not their run production. I would much rather have a team with a .250 batting average that scores runs and doesn’t leave a ridiculous amount of RISP than a team with .300 average that leads the league in RISP.

    • I disagree. Cole pitches better each time he needs to bear down. His strand rate is solid and K rate with runners in scoring position is very high vs. what his K rate is the rest of the time. Cole does need to step it up but the season is young and he did get off to a late start this spring…..give him 3 or 4 more starts before you give him a hard time.

  14. I think we should change our thought that Cole is an elite pitcher. He only won 5 or 6 games after the All Star break last year and only has one good start this year. In his last start he went through long stretch where he only threw fastballs. It seems he has no control or confidence in breaking pitches. I’m betting that by the middle or late next season, he’ll be the number 3 starter (of course that would make for a pretty good rotation).

  15. It’s the WAY they beat us last year and this. They absolutely humiliate us. It’s awful to watch.

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