Two Games, One Score: Pirates 3, Mets 1

06.08.16 Posted by

When the Pirates play a day game, ROOT Sports (the channel that carries Pirate games here in Pittsburgh) will often just run the game again shortly afterwards. You could be forgiven for thinking that this had happened yesterday, because the Bucs won both games of a doubleheader in very similar ways: both featured 3-1 scores, exactly 10 hits for the Bucs, nearly as many for the Mets (4 and 5, respectively), and they held a 2-0 lead around the middle of both of them, too. Mark Melancon threw a perfect ninth both games, too, picking up two saves in one day.

This is good above and beyond the mere fact of winning: we have ample evidence to suggest the Pirate lineup is good, and very little to suggest the pitching is. There’s still a chance the pitching could be good, or merely decent, but it could just as easily be terrible. So right now, low-scoring wins probably bode better for the team’s future than high-scoring ones, if you ignore the whole beggar/chooser thing.

In game one, Jon Niese completely shut the Mets down with seven shutout innings. That’s basically six strong starts in a row for Niese (the worst of which was six innings and three runs), driving his ERA down two full runs. Feliz gave up a solo homer to Granderson in the 8th, but that was basically it for the Mets.

In game two, Juan Nicasio pitched very much like someone who either a) had nothing to lose or b) knew their job was on the line. I’m pretty sure a) is correct, but whatever the reason, he had his best start since late April, striking out four of the first six batters he faced and seven in five innings, allowing one run. He was pulled at the very first sign of trouble in the 6th (he merely walked the lead off man), a refreshingly aggressive move by Hurdle that was almost certainly enabled by the fact that the Pirates only had to use three pitchers in the first game. So give Niese a partial credit for the second win, too. The Pirates’ bullpen threw four shutout frames in relief of Nicasio, and both Feliz and Melancon struck out the side.

The Pirates’ play recently meant that they sort of needed a day like this just to keep pace. And it has to be noted that the Mets are the 3rd-lowest scoring team in the NL. But even being able to shut down a bad offensive team isn’t something this pitching staff has always been capable of, so this is a nice data point in favor of it being, at least, not awful. And we might get another big data point on that front today.

Filed under: game recaps, Jonathan Niese, Juan Nicasio, Mark Melancon

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

Game 154 Recap: A Series of Unfortunate Events

09.21.13 Posted by

You hate to be in the position of registering this sort of complaint, but the Pirates lost last night in excruciating, improbable fashion. Whereas the other night it seemed like Mark Melancon blew a save because didn’t pitch particularly well, last night he was just dinked to death as ball after ball found a hole, or ricocheted off someone’s glove in just the right way. But then, when your closer’s having one of the better relief seasons in recent history, the odds are good that, when someone does get to them, it’s going to be with flimsy stuff like this.


It was an especially tough loss because at the time the Cards were trailing (they went on to win) and it looked exceedingly likely that we were about to pull into a tie for the division lead, just two games after being two back. Instead, the division is all but gone and we’re virtually assured of having to play a coin flip game for the right to enter the division round, and it’s almost definitely going to be against these Reds.

That, in itself, isn’t too shocking. Most of us have assumed for the last two months that this would be what would happen, and if we managed to improbably wrestle the division from the Cardinals, all the better. What’s more disconcerting is that we’re no longer in the driver’s seat in determining where that one game will be played, and given that we’re 19 games over .500 at PNC Park and only 3 games over on the road, this is no small detail.

Obviously, this season is a success. And I think we’ll all feel pretty great about it if the Bucs make it to the division round and things end there (though that might change in the heat of the moment). But given the positions we’ve been in throughout the year, it would be hard to regard a loss in the Wild Card game as less than disappointing…especially if that game takes place in Cincinnati, depriving the fans of even a pseudo playoff game here in the ‘Burgh.

Filed under: everything is terrible, Mark Melancon, Playoffs (I can't believe I get to use this tag)