Messy: Rockies 5, Pirates 1

05.22.16 Posted by

I’m never sure whether to be more or less encouraged when the Pirates “beat themselves” with bad plays, like they did yesterday. On one hand, it’s doubly frustrating to know they’d have won if they’d executed routine plays. On the other hand, executing routine plays is fixable: getting thoroughly outplayed usually isn’t.

Tied 1-1 heading into the ninth, Clint Hurdle decided not to mess around and brought in Mark Melancon. Melancon looked sharp, striking out the first two batters looking, and would’ve put the side down in order except for a bizarre Francisco Cervelli throwing error. Normally, this kind of thing is nerve-wracking but doesn’t change the outcome. This time, it did: the next batter walked, both moved up on a wild pitch, and then a ball hit first base (charged as an error to Jaso who couldn’t quite handle it afterwards) and two runners scored. The Rockies scored two runs without the ball leaving the infield. Then, the ball left the outfield, Hughes replaced Melancon and something called Cristhian Adames hit his first career home run. The Bucs got a couple men on in the bottom of the inning, which would’ve been briefly thrilling if not for the home run.

My general rule on the more encouraged/less encouraged thing mentioned above is that I’m more encouraged if the mistakes are weird, flukey defensive miscues, because most of the time those don’t occur with any regularity. This assumes that the team isn’t horrendous on defense, but I’m fairly confident they aren’t.

There are actually quite a few noteworthy things from this game that I haven’t even touched on yet:

  • As seen in the picture above, Jung Ho Kang slid aggressively into home and seemed to injure his left hand. X-rays came back negative, thank goodness, and he’s day-to-day. He was already getting every 3rd or 4th game off, though, so I suspect he’ll take a seat tonight.
  • Jon Niese was excellent. I mentioned in this game’s preview that I wasn’t sure if his start against Atlanta was a turning point for him, or just the kind of start even a struggling pitcher can put together against Atlanta. But he was even better yesterday, allowing just one run on four hits in seven innings. That’s three decent-to-good starts in a row (he gave up three homers in Cincinnati, but all were solo). His xFIP is getting close to 4.00. One more good start and I’ll be officially encouraged.
  • As mentioned above, Mark Melancon looked pretty sharp early on, though the baseball gods have apparently decreed that no inning of his can go smoothly ever again, whoever’s fault the tumult may be. His stuff still isn’t what it was two years ago, but last year he had an abnormal peripheral increase in things like velocity later in that year than you usually see, so maybe this is the start of something similar. Let’s hope.
  • The Bucs outhit the Rockies 9-6, but seven of those were singles. This is how the losses go now: very rarely do the Pirates get shut down. They just don’t string their hits together well, or they get too many singles and two few extra base hits.

The Bucs are still at about a 90-win pace, but there are signs of the rotation stabilizing a little bit. And by “stabilizing” I mean “being unreliable rather than abjectly horrible half the time.” I think we’ll continue on a pretty solid pace for the next few weeks, and then the rotation starts changing. The nice thing is, the offense seems good enough that even a mediocre pitching staff should be enough to keep us in the thick of things.

Filed under: Francisco Cervelli, game recaps, Jonathan Niese, Mark Melancon

Ugly, But Effective: Pirates 12, Braves 9

05.18.16 Posted by

Insert joke about how “ugly, but effective” was so-and-so’s nickname in high school.

In the series’ first game, the Pirates scored a bunch of runs, which masked the fact that they’d given up five runs to the worst team in baseball, and two home runs to a team that had only nine all season beforehand. Last night’s game was both of those things turned up higher: the Pirates scored even more runs (seven in the first inning and then two more in the second), ran up a 9-0 lead, and then piddled most of it away. In the top of the 7th the game was 11-9, which, mercifully, is as close as it would get.

The Bucs gave up another two home runs to Mallex Smith, who had one this year coming into the game, and four other extra base hits. Juan Nicasio started strong but gave up five runs (three earned) in five innings. I mentioned yesterday that this seemed like a good matchup for Nicasio, with the exception of the lefties the Braves could throw at him. Smith, of course, is a lefty, though his second home run came off of Caminero.

The offense was tremendous, even more than you’d expect against a team like the Braves or a starter like Aaron Blair. 21 hits, six for extra bases, and three doubles from Gregory Polanco. At this point I’m one more scorcher in the gap away from dreamily doodling Polanco’s name in notebooks. The early season success hasn’t just continued, it’s ramped up: he hit .302/.404/.500 in April, and he’s hitting .314/.417/.549 in May. He has almost as many walks as strikeouts. He’s on pace to be nearly a 5 WAR player, and we’re nearly a fourth of the way through the season. Everything about Polanco says that he’s Figured It Out. And more than that, it all fits the normal power trajectory: this year, it’s doubles. Next year, more of those start clearing the fence.

Speaking of next year, the Pirates no longer have to worry about who’ll be catching for them: Francisco Cervelli signed a three-year extension that’ll pay him a bit over $10 million per year. This is a tenfold increase on his ridiculously low salary, but still less than what he’d have garnered on the open market based on his performance here. I like the move: the Pirates’ internal catching options weren’t panning out as well or as quickly as they’d hoped, and we have some reason to believe he’ll age pretty gracefully for the next few year. And I have to point out that his OBP this year is nearly as high as Russell Martin’s OPS, though I’m convinced Martin will bounce back before long. Still, yet more evidence that this team is both prudent about who to let walk, but not mindlessly letting everyone walk. They’re locking up the guys they know they need.

Cervelli, by the way, celebrated by knocking in a run in each of his first two at bats and going three for five.

Hard to swallow the Braves putting up this many runs, and harder to think of last night as a fluke. Maybe the pitching is even worse than I’d thought. I’ll feel a lot better if we can win with some more baseball-looking scores the next couple of games.

Filed under: Francisco Cervelli, game recaps, John Jaso, Juan Nicasio