Technically, all you really want out of any game is a win. But fans who watch each game know that there are a hundred different types of wins. Last night’s game was a win, but it was among the less-encouraging varieties of win. I’m nitpicking, of course, but when you’re writing about a team on a 98-win pace who’s just won 13 of 17 games again playoff (and borderline playoff) teams, nitpicking is all you can do.
The biggest nit to pick is the fielding: it’s been pretty bad, and it really boiled over last night. Pedro Alvarez made two errors; a sharp liner right through his legs that directly led to a run, and a low throw that he simply dropped (it wasn’t in the dirt, just a little low). He also made two other mistakes that weren’t scored as such: he chased after a flare in right that he missed, but Walker caught behind him (a much tougher play than it had to be, with Pedro right in front of him), and he was one of three Pirates running down a popup in shallow right that apparently nobody called, as it dropped equidistant between them. Of course, Pedro decided to turn the entire game into a microcosm of his career by homering to the opposite field later on.
This game might be a turning point for Alvarez. He’s hitting well, but so is the team as a whole. And if you can replace him a certain way, you swing the entire defense with just a couple of moves. Jordy Mercer’s back, and while he seemed like the odd man out a couple of weeks ago, a rash of defensive mistakes may have changed that. If he plays at SS most days, that moves Kang to 3B. That means Ramirez is either an overqualified pinch hitter/offensive replacement, or he gives 1B a try. Playing Ramirez at 1B simultaneously removes Pedro from the field and makes room for our two best defensive options on the left side of the infield. Throw in Harrison platooning with Walker, and you’re probably turning a lot more of those grounders (the ones you’ve based your entire pitching staff around) into outs.
I don’t want to sound cavalier about this, because Ramirez has never played first. But it’s hard to imagine he won’t be a significant defensive upgrade over Alvarez anyway, and there’s a chance he might not be a major offensive downgrade, too, which is the trade off you face when you keep running Sean Rodriguez out there. In a vacuum the move feels shaky, but when you consider the way it lets so many other things fall into place, it looks like it might be worth trying.
Meanwhile, the offensive continues to mash: though they’ve scored a pedestrian eight runs the last two games, they’ve done it with five homers, and they had 11 hits last night. Liriano was a little shaky, but as I just mentioned, he didn’t have a lot of defensive help, and he managed to escape unscathed often enough that the Pirates never trailed. Liriano and Cole both continue to have excellent seasons by a) being incredibly good and b) putting up decent numbers even when they’re not being incredibly good. Liriano’s start was an example of the latter, but it got the job done.
The Pirates are winning a ton of games right now, and they just finished a difficult part of the schedule. The next 10 games are against poor competition, and the team’s nearly at full strength. Get ready.