Pirates Take Two From Cards

After a miserable two games in Chicago, the Pirates went to St. Louis for what figured to be two miserable games in one day.  But they couldn’t stay on script and took two games from the Cardinals.

The Bucs picked up a 4-3, eight-inning win (MLB is playing seven-inning games in doubleheaders this year) in game one, mainly because they outplayed the Cards on defense.  That’s good to see because the Pirates came in as MLB’s most error-prone team and one of the worst in defensive efficiency (which I like as a team-level stat).  The Cards are also one of the most error-prone teams, but lead everybody by a wide margin in defensive efficiency.  They showed the latter with several nice catches, including two by Tyler O’Neill in left.

The Bucs in this one played errorless ball and got nice plays from Jose Osuna, playing third, and Cole Tucker in center.  Osuna made a sliding catch on a foul popup by Yadier Molina and threw to second to double up O’Neill.  Tucker covered a lot of ground to make a sliding catch on a shallow popup by Dexter Fowler.  The Cards, meanwhile, committed three errors and let in two unearned runs, not counting the free runner at the start of extras.

Jacob Stallings also had another nice game, going 2-for-4 to lift his average to .328 and his OPS to .814.  That was one-third of the Pirates’ hit total, all of them singles; they have just one extra-base hit in their last 26 innings.  Stallings seems to be repeating his success of last season, which is a surprise bonus for a team that needs one.  He never made a prospect list and went unclaimed on waivers twice, yet he came into today fourth among all catchers in fWAR.  He also nailed the Cards’ only would-be base stealer, helped by a good catch-and-tag by Erik Gonzalez.  Stallings provided the Pirates’ only run in regulation with a two-out single in the fourth.  That drove in Cole Tucker, who’d reached on an error.

Chad Kuhl had another strong game, giving up just the one run over six innings.  Through five innings, he needed only 57 pitches and allowed just four hits.  The only run came when Molina led off the fifth with a home run.

The sixth was different, taking Kuhl 24 pitches.  He got two outs, but walked the next two batters.  He came back to strike out O’Neill, his only strikeout of the game.  Out of those 24 pitches, he didn’t throw a single fastball.

Chris Stratton had an easy seventh and it was off to extras.  The Pirates had failed to cash in the free runner six out of seven tries previously, and this one didn’t start well as Gonzalez fanned.  But Tucker looped a single to center to drive in Jarrod Dyson, who correctly judged the ball wouldn’t be caught and took right off for the plate.  Dyson was running for Will Craig, who made his major league debut, going 0-for-3 and playing well at first.  With two outs, the Pirates picked up two more runs, making it 4-1.  Bryan Reynolds singled in one and the other scored when Stallings reached on an error by Brad Miller at third.

Rich Rodriguez didn’t make it easy in the bottom half.  A single, a sacrifice fly and two more singles cut the score to 4-3, with runners at the corners and one out.  Rodriguez came back, though, to strike out Miller and Max Schrock on six pitches total.  He picked up his second save and Stratton got the win.

Game two marked the first major league start for Cody Ponce.  He didn’t exactly blow people away, but he threw five and two-thirds shutout innings to lead the Bucs to a 2-0 win.

Ponce scuffled a little early, but the GIDP kept him out of trouble.  A single by the first hitter he faced, Tommy Edman, got wiped out on an around-the-horn DP.  That was good, because Paul Goldschmidt then doubled.  A fly out ended the inning.

In the second, the Cards started with a walk and a single.  Ponce, though, got a 6-3 DP, then got another grounder to end the inning.

Starting in the third, Ponce stayed in control.  He did give up a leadoff double in the fifth, but got two popups and a strikeout.  In the sixth, Brad Miller hit a two-out triple.  Geoff Hartlieb came on to get a popup.  Ponce finished with five hits, two walks and two strikeouts in his line.  He needed a modest total of 77 pitches, 51 strikes.

The Pirates got all their offense in the third.  After a one-out walk to J.T. Riddle, John Ryan Murphy, Erik Gonzalez and Adam Frazier all singled.  The last two drove in runs.

Not much other offense happened.  The Pirates finished with six singles, so they’ve now gone 33 innings with just one extra-base hit.

They still had to get through the seventh, but there wasn’t any drama.  Nik Turley got a line out, strikeout and fly out to pick up his first major league save.  The win was Ponce’s career first.