PITTSBURGH — When things are going really poorly, sometimes it’s hard to pick out one thing that — or even a few things — that is causing a team to under-perform.

That seems to be the case with the Pirates, who lost their third straight game to the San Francisco Giants, 5-3, Thursday afternoon to fall to five games under .500 and 5.5 games behind the New York Mets for the final National League Wild Card spot.

There was so much blame to go around, even manager Clint Hurdle couldn’t figure out where to place it. He started with a pair of walks and a single by Giants’ third baseman Conor Gillaspie given up by starter Jonathon Niese in the third inning that set the table for a three-run triple by second baseman Joe Panik.

“There’s reasons you win and reasons you lose,” Hurdle said. “In that particular inning, those three batters, two walks and an 0-2 single to a left-handed hitter put people in play and then mis-executed pitch on Panik for a (triple) to score three.”

Niese, however, thought that even after the second walk that loaded the bases, he could have salvaged things.

“The most frustrating part about that inning was that triple,” he said. “I just wish I could have had that back. It was a sinker in. He just got barrel on it. It’s crazy how one swing of the bat can ruin your whole outing.”

Then there was the defense of Gregory Polanco, who was playing in center field due to Andrew McCutchen’s day off and Starling Marte’s sore foot. Polanco couldn’t get to Panik’s line drive, then overran the ball, which allowed Panik to take third and score on Mac Williamson’s single the next at-bat.

“You’ve got wet grass and the ball checks up on him,” Hurdle said. “Normally, that ball hits and goes. He’s anticipating. You don’t really know how to react to a ball until the ball’s hit and you see it happen one time.”

That’s just the defensive side of the ball. The offense didn’t set the world on fire against Giants’ spot starter Albert Suarez.

“We left one out there in the second,” Hurdle recalled. “First and third and nobody out after we had scored one. A couple switches early in the game the we didn’t capitalize on and they did caused the separation.”

Even though the Pirates got Suarez to 102 pitches — well over his season high — in just five innings, they only got one hit in his last two innings of work.

“Today, we had a spot starter, we averaged 20 pitches an inning,” Hurdle said. “We weren’t able to get the barrel on the ball, find outfield grass and get hits. That’s what we weren’t able to do.”

The story was much of the same against the Giants’ bullpen that shut down the Pirates for the second straight day.

“Well, we didn’t get any runs. We saw a lot of pitches.” Hurdle said. “The closer threw 25. The battle in the box is real. It’s happening. We’re not able to score runs and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about, being able to score one more run than the other team. That’s what we’re not doing.”

Analyzing Thursday’s loss doesn’t even address some of the other issues that have cropped up lately for the Pirates, where several injuries, an inability to come up with a clutch hit, a leaky bullpen, and some disastrous starts have let the losses pile up.

“We just gotta keep battling and grinding,” Josh Harrison said. “It’s no secret what’s happened the past couple of weeks or whatever, but there’s still a lot of baseball left. There’s no need for us as an offense or a pitching staff to feel like we have to do more. We just gotta be ready. Whatever happened yesterday or today doesn’t affect what happens in the future.”

NOTES

• Harrison had an RBI triple and scored after reaching on a fielder’s choice. Gregory Polanco drove in two runs with a pair of sacrifice flies.

• Starling Marte pinch-hit for the second straight day, but is still not playing the field.

• Chris Stewart said he felt good a day after catching eight innings, which is a “big step” towards him being back to normal.

• Jameson Taillon will start a four-game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park Friday.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Was actually at the game today.

    There was a rumor in the crowd that
    McCutchen is on the trading block.

    Another rumor said it was substantial enough
    that Huntington actually had to come out
    and state that a trade was not in the works..

    Any thoughts or comments?

    • Way too early for any serious Cutch trade talks. There’s a stretch of 20 straight games after the all star break that is a very easy schedule. Problem is we could be 10 games out of a wildcard spot by the break. Still think we’ll make another run at it.

    • zero chance you trade Cutch. Not because he’s a fan fave or his contract. It’s because he’s performing at a low point and his value isn’t there. He’s been right with Mike Trout for the past few years, and the value should be in that range – so you have to keep him until he either turns it around or your in his contract year and you’re looking for some kind of return on him before losing him to FA.
      It’s amazing really to see him struggle, because we’ve never really seen him struggle like this. I think he’ll return to form, but IMO it won’t be this year unless he goes on the DL.

      • Interesting that Hurdle keeps saying McCutchen’s swing looks good and properly connected in BP and in their special work sessions. He looks to me like a guy who is pressing, and the harder he tries the worse it gets. Not at all like a golfer who under pressure develops a bad case of the “pull-hook” problem. When Cutch is at his best he hits with power to right center…..those line drives to center and right have been nonexistent during this slump. The longer he struggles the more it is affecting his attitude and it seems to be affecting the team as well. Your top pitcher is hurt, so is your catcher. Your field leader is having the worst slump of his career. Your clubhouse leader and union rep was traded. Starting pitching has become a sad display.
        We are toast.

  2. It seems like the Pirates have abandoned pitching inside this year. We also have more soft tossers and no Charlie Morton. I think we miss AJ’s attitude and anchor in the 3 spot. Also, Clint used to bunt religiously and execute squeezes, double steals. You would think our team doesn’t know these plays exist, even as the Power hitting Cubs squeeze and double steal our pants off. Frustrating season so far. No explanations for such a drop off.

  3. Awkward that Marte is dealing with an injured foot and still PH before McCutchen (granted, I probably make the same call the way Cutch is swinging). Hopefully, this is the off day that sparks Cutch. They’re going to need an awful lot of offense to carry this rotation.

  4. Team isn’t good. Period. I enjoy following the farm system more. Our future will be here soon and it will be an exiting one.

    Since this season is well on its way to being a terrible one, I’ll be spending most of my baseball time following the prospects and then hoping we can pull off some good trades once the fire sale begins.

  5. I was at the game and Niese was effective using his 2-seamer inside to righties early and getting ground balls. His problem to me seemed to be that he had trouble both getting ahead in the count and putting away lefties. He was up 1-2 on Span who fouled off a few pitches before drawing a walk to load the bases for Panik’s triple.

  6. Niese must be a graduate of the Hurdle course on post game bullshit…

    Throw strikes – pitch quickly and admit you suck when you do…

    The Bucs have to lead the league in pitches thrown per inning
    4th in most walks per 9
    3rd fewest strikeouts per 9
    And many fans think Searage is a god
    SMFH

    When will we someone held accountable for this mess

    • My thoughts exactly, Joe. I am tired of the excuses. Multi-million dollars a year, guaranteed, for ball players who can’t adjust to wet grass. Give me a break!!!!!!!!!! I am sick of this crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Something that always frustrates me is a comment like “it’s crazy how one swing of the bat can ruin your entire outing.”
    If I was his manager, I would say “no, walking the seven hitter, allowing the eighth hitter to hit an 0-2 pitch, and then walking the bases full is what ruined your outing.” Pitchers are going to miss, but they are only going to pay for it if they allow unnecessary base runners.

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