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.”
• 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.