CHICAGO – The Pirates lost 4-3 to the Cubs tonight, continuing their recent slump by going 1-9 in their last ten games, and 5-16 in their last 21. The problems with the team this year haven’t been limited to just one thing. The pitching has been a big issue, but injuries have also made the problem worse this year. And tonight, they limited what the club could do.

The Pirates had Sean Rodriguez at the plate in the top of the eighth inning with a runner on second and two outs. Gregory Polanco was available off the bench, but they stuck with Rodriguez, who flew out to end the inning.

After the game, Pirates’ Manager Clint Hurdle said that he couldn’t pinch hit Rodriguez because he was the backup catcher tonight. Chris Stewart has served as a Human Crash Test Dummy in the past few weeks, and because of his many minor injuries, was unavailable tonight.

None of that probably would have mattered. If Polanco hits for Rodriguez, then the Cubs would have just walked him with a runner on second and two outs, bringing up Erik Kratz, who hasn’t had a hit yet in 15 at-bats with the Pirates.

Kratz came up to lead off the 9th inning, but because Stewart wasn’t available, and because the Cubs would have hit in the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates had to bat him. Pinch hitting would have guaranteed Rodriguez catching in the bottom of the 9th, which sounds like a disaster scenario when you consider his catching skills would be questionable, and he’s had no work with the pitchers. Rodriguez has never caught in his 14 years in pro ball. Thus, the Pirates had to roll with their only real catcher.

And thus we realized the horrible situation that the Pirates are in with their catchers. Francisco Cervelli is out with a hamate injury. Elias Diaz is recovering from elbow surgery to remove bone chips. Jacob Stallings and Ed Easley are both batting under .200 in Triple-A (where Kratz was hitting .231). John Jaso has caught before, but isn’t an option going forward due to his concussion history. And Chris Stewart is so banged up that there are some nights where he isn’t available.

On any given night, we’re an Erik Kratz injury away from Sean Rodriguez catching.

Home Run Problems Continue For Jon Niese

Jon Niese gave up four runs tonight, and three of them came on the long ball.  He gave up a second inning home run to Anthony Rizzo, a fifth inning homer to Kris Bryant, and a sixth inning homer to David Ross. He almost gave up another homer in the first inning to Bryant, who flew out to the wall with the wind blowing in at the time.

It’s been well documented on this site that Niese has a home run problem. That problem looked like it was starting to go away recently, with just two home runs in 31 innings from May 16th to June 7th. But Niese has seen his home run issues return in the last two outings, with five in 10.2 innings against the Cardinals and the Cubs.

“I thought he executed his game plan very well, outside of three pitches,” Hurdle said. “The 0-2 breaking ball to Rizzo hung over the plate. The fastball to Bryant. He got in a bad spot. And Ross clipped him with a fastball. He pitched well. He had two walks, put two guys on intentionally. Gave up four or five strikeouts. Unfortunately there wasn’t much room for error when you miss with location.”

Niese said that the game plan was to attack with the fastball and work off the pitch. However, he made some mistakes up in the zone, and that cost him.

“It’s two good ball clubs,” Niese said of the recent struggles. “When you make a mistake up in the zone, they’re going to make you pay for it. I made a few mistakes up in the zone. I didn’t get away with it.”

Game Notes

**Jordy Mercer had a successful night at the plate, hitting a leadoff homer against Jon Lester, then getting a double off Lester in his following at-bat. Mercer said that his plan was to be aggressive tonight.

“He throws a lot of strikes. I think he just made some mistakes out over the plate that he usually doesn’t do. He usually works the corners. I was able to get a couple of pitches out over the plate and put good swings on them and drive them.”

**Mercer on the club atmosphere after the Pirates have lost 9 of 10 and 16 of 21: “It’s good. Obviously you want to win. We’re used to winning and we want to get back to the winning ways. But we’ve got to keep fighting, we’ve got to keep pushing. Our confidence is not going to waver, especially with this group of guys.”

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Pirates are not competitive at this time. Starting and relief pitching in shambles. Maybe they could out hit some teams but not without Much improving to last years levels. Put all pitchers on the block as well as Jason,Freeze and Joyce. Bring up the future and let them get their feet wet. The season can not be saved based on the team’s they are competing against.

  2. Shame the Pirates didn’t resign Volquez, Happ or even Blanton over the past couple years. I am sure there were good reasons why the Pirates didn’t resign them. But they would have helped.
    I think the Pirates will possibly try to trade players such as Freese, Jaso and Joyce for some minor leaguers. They also may trade some minor leaguers (but not top 10) if the find some players who has a contract through next year or beyond.
    The real question is the bullpen. I don’t see a clear cut stopper in the future. Melancon and Feliz can play out their option at the end of the year. Watson can next year. Trade Melancon or try to sign him to a 2 year extension?

  3. The Pirates are real good at finding replacement players that cannot hit at all. Morell, Martnez and now Kratz… They would have a better chance of getting a hit if they just closed their eyes and swing at every pitch. Its just an automatic out every time. Maddon is probably laughing his head off looking at our lineup card.

  4. Who cares about a one game WC game that they will get their butts handed to them again if they get there. I would rather see them finish in last place and get a much better draft pick next year. They cannot beat anyone in the Central division right now. As for the Cubs I believe I said last year that they were going to be a juggernaut this year and I got laughed at , well its happened and the Pirates will be very lucky to win 4 games against them this year. They have zero chance of competing with them the next 5 or 6 years.

  5. I would like to see the Bucs pull McCutchen, and DL him. Give him some time off, and get him healed. I have believed he was hurt since the Tiger series.
    The season is essentially over, and it should also be an imperative to see what we have at AAA (and maybe even AA).
    I realize Stallings might be important to the development of Glasnow and Kuhl at Indy, but we need him at the major league level now.
    I don’t think there is a serious chance of getting McKenry. If I were the Cardinals, I would make the Pirates pay very dearly to get him … nope, it’s Stallings …

  6. Gotta love the bunt back to the pitcher to lead off the 9th last night… said no one, ever.

    Honest to God, an old tire with a piece of plywood and a rubber flap to soften the blow would be a better option.

    What an awful June swoon.

  7. I’m not sure how anyone can be worse than Kratz. The pitching has been horrible every time he has been behind the dish. They have lost every game he has started. There has to be someone better. I don’t care if Stallings can’t hit. The worst he can do is one hit less than Kratz. At least Stallings has a report with the pitchers.

  8. “he executed his game plan well” …………..except for the three balls that sailed over the wall.
    Pitching and catching are the keys to half the ballgame and we flat out stink in those areas.
    The season has become a train wreck. At least go get us a catcher.

    • Players are going to be harder to pick up as the season moves on, but you’re absolutely right in that picking up a catcher is imperative. A few days, or a week or so, of Kratz should have been enough to allow time to do better.

      The Yankees are bound to have another backstop we can pick up.

  9. I see a lot of commenters want to sell at the deadline. The problem is sell what? the obvious choice would be the starting pitchers, unfortunately, none (except Cole) would bring anything.

    Melancon makes sense but he would be a two-month rental for another team and his velocity and FIP aren’t awe inspiring.
    Jaso would be interesting but that would be taking a chance since Bell hasn’t even had a big league at bat yet. I would prefer platooning them first.
    And then there’s Cutch. If he’s still playing poorly that would limit his value. And if he’s turning it around, it would be vary uncomfortable.

    • When they decide to bring Bell up, it won’t be a platoon. His strong side is left. They’ll bring him up to play everyday and hopefully, SRod won’t be be here to replace him for defense every game in the late innings.

      • I think it would be ideal for a 70/30 platoon (Bell/Jaso). My point is if they bring him up, start him full time, and he falters there needs to be a back up (aka Jaso) plan. I don’t know why fans think these players (besides pitchers) should be give a full time job because they hit well in AAA

  10. This really is proving to be a bridge year…time to sell at the deadline. Have tons of great talent on the way….Bell, Glasnow…Meadows is not much farther behind. Huntington didnt do enough to restock the bullpen or starting pitching. Thats why they are where they are. Retool for next year! Things could look alot brighter by then.

    • Where have you been? 🙂

      I agree. The best the Pirates could possibly do right now is fight for a wild card spot…the don’t have the the pitching to compete with the Mets…so they’d be looking for, at best, the bottom position in the WC.

      Over the next few weeks, the picture will get clearer, but I really don’t see the team having the talent to be able to hang around this season. If the skid continues, there won’t be much more to do than press the reset button…I just hope the FO has the humility to do it.

  11. Things are looking bleak at the moment for the Mudville 9! The injurises to Cervelli, Stewart and Diaz are hurting them on top of their pitching woes. If this continues , good news though for P2 – the Pirates will be drafting higher than No. 22 next year! What is a bit hard to understand is that 9 years into the NH era, they basically have had 2 drafted pitchers contribute: Cole, No. 1 overall, and Taillon, No. 2 overall. I know Glasnow is on the way, as are Meadows and McGuire, but after all these years you would have thought the draft would have been more productive. It is discouraging to follow (not watch!) them getting stomped so badly at the moment! I am really starting to think that if Hanson and Bell are ready (are they?) then they should be up nolater than the trading deadline. And I hope that the Pirates will be smart and if they are hopelessly out of the WC (you can forget the division for sure!) they should see whatever the chips they hold (Melancon?) could bring in return. I suspect the returns on Freese/Joyce/Jaso wouldn’t be all that great?

    • I think the returns for the bench pieces would be okay…not substantial…but, okay. For what the Pirates have invested in them monetarily, they could get their money back plus a good deal more.

      I like the Mudville 9 reference…I’d call the Pirates the Mudville benign though 🙂

    • I’m probably in a small minority here, but is Hanson really going to be recalled. His hitting has turned to SRod proportions.
      Catching needs an immediate upgrade. The heck with Bell’s defensive issues, play him or trade him. Frazier should have gotten the call ahead of Rogers.
      I get that NH crossed his fingers and made his wishes while blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, but he needs to right the ship.

      • Bobby, your not in the minority at all, we have the subs in AAA or we need to quit bragging about how great our prospects are. Bell and Frazier both are ready, they are Major league players.
        Good news, Stallings has been called up today.

        • He did really good in Aug , Sept and April but has looked like the lifetime .229 he is otherwise.

    • Ready for this ? Playing for the Cardinals AAA team… Batting .289 with a .407 OBP in 89 AB’s. That’s our boy.

    • Nice article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel this morning about the Fort and his dad, Cliff, who was diagnosed with cancer late last year. He is in his 2nd round of Chemo. Since joining the Memphis Redbirds, the Fort is hitting .357 in 13 games, and played in Nashville earlier this week and his father was able to attend the game.

      Happy Father’s Day to all

  12. Catching went from a position of depth to a serious weakness very quickly. Catchers get hurt, and you want to be ready for that, but it was literally our two best options who went down. Not ideal.

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