Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Big week for Pirates begins with bad loss
By David Schoenfield
During Monday's Power Rankings video chat, Eric Karabell mentioned that this would be an important week for the Pirates as they entered the week at 12-19 with two big series at home against the Giants and Cardinals. That's a tough week and it's followed by a road trip to Milwaukee and New York to face the Yankees and then six home games against the Orioles and Nationals.
This stretch got off to brutal start on Monday with an 11-10 loss to the Giants in a game that ended at 12:36 a.m. local time, featured ducks on the field, two pitchers pinch-hitting, two replay challenges and an umpire getting hit by a throw. The Pirates had an 8-2 lead after five innings. The Giants scored five in the sixth as Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris couldn't stop the damage. The Giants tied it the seventh but the Pirates re-took the lead, only to see the Giants tie it again with a run off Mark Melancon in the ninth. At that point, it seemed inevitable that the Giants would eventually pull it out and they did, scoring in the 13th when the Giants, out of position players, had to let reliever Jean Machi bat with two on and one out. Jared Hughes threw away Machi's bunt for an error and Hunter Pence scored from second. The Giants' rally that inning: Walk, hit by pitch, throwing error. Ouch.
Needless to say, it's not surprising that the Pirates didn't blow any six-run leads last year. Here's a stat that shows how well the Pirates played when they grabbed an early lead in 2013: They were 64-9 when leading entering the sixth inning; this year, they're just 6-6. Pirates starters are last in the majors in FanGraphs' WAR. The magic and good karma of 2013 is quickly fading and they're already 9.5 games behind the Brewers. It's going to be a tough climb back.
Other thoughts on Monday's wild night of action:
- Machi has become the Giants' secret weapon or good-luck charm. He's now 5-0 with a 0.53 ERA, part of a Giants' bullpen that is second in the majors with a 1.88 ERA and has held opponents to a .198 average. Due to some struggles in the rotation, Giants' relievers are averaging 3.4 innings per game, fourth-highest in the majors, so that's something to watch. Machi is a great story, a 32-year-old Venezuelan first signed by the Phillies in 2000. He didn't reach the majors until 2012, after spending time in the minors with the Phillies, Rays, Blue Jays and Pirates. He's a bad-body guy who primarily throws a fastball/splitter combo. He didn't really refine his control until last season, which began in Triple-A, but he's walked just 15 and allowed two home runs in 70 innings with the Giants in 2013-2014. And his bunt last night? It was first as a professional, as he was batting for the just the fourth time in his professional career.
- The Rockies continue to roll at home, where Troy Tulowitzki is unstoppable. They beat the Rangers 8-2 as Jordan Lyles improved to 4-0 with a 2.62 ERA, pitching eight strong innings. The Rockies had just three starts at home all last season where the starter went at least eight innings and allowed two runs or fewer (all by Jhoulys Chacin). As for Tulo, he hit two home runs and is now hitting .596 at home and a 1941 Ted Williams-like .408/.512/.786 overall. Nolan Arenado extended his hit streak to 25 games so that's starting to get interesting. I like what I'm seeing from this club. Sure, some of the offense is Coors infused -- they're hitting .344 at home, .254 on the road -- but they're also outslugging opponents .587 to .423 at Coors. They're going to hang around if Tulowitzki stays healthy. Mark Simon has more on the Rockies.
- Another team that may hang around: The Miami Marlins, owners of another walk-off victory, 4-3 over the Mets after scoring three in the eighth and once in the ninth. Nathan Eovaldi had another good start and he's developing into a solid No. 2 behind Jose Fernandez. After giving up two first-inning home runs, he settled down and went seven innings, allowing three runs and striking out 10. He was a guy I pinpointed before the season as somebody who could take a big leap forward due to his big fastball. He's walked just six batters in 45 innings and after having a poor 78/40 strikeout/walk ratio last year is at 45/6 in 2014. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight wrote about the Marlins yesterday.
- Oh, Max Scherzer is still good. He's won four starts in a row and hasn't allowed a run his past two. OK, Monday's game was against the Astros but the three previous came against the White Sox (twice) and Angels, two of the best-hitting teams so far. He won the Cy Young last year and he's looking like the leading candidate in the AL once again.