Pirates Blow Lead, Lose Last Game of Mercifully Short Season

The Pirates blew a 6-2 lead and lost the final game of their shortened season, 8-6, to Cleveland.  They finished with a major league-worst record of 19-41.

The Pirates built their lead on a couple RBI hits by Jose Osuna, including his fourth home run of the year; a home run by Ke’Bryan Hayes, his fifth of the year; a two-run double by Adam Frazier; and a wild throw on a double play attempt.  Osuna and Hayes finished their seasons well.  Osuna went 3-for-4, missing the cycle by a triple, to drag himself up over the Mendoza Line.  Hayes had hits his first two times up, giving him hits in eight straight at-bats.  The Indians intentionally walked him in his third plate appearance, then he struck out with runners at second and third, and one out.  So he’s not perfect.

J.T. Brubaker wasn’t up to the level of most of the Pirates’ recent starts, although he wasn’t terrible.  He gave up five runs over five-plus innings, all of them on a pair of gopher balls.  He gave up a two-run bomb to Carlos Santana after falling behind, 3-0.  He ended his season in the top of the sixth, letting the first two batters reach and then allowing a three-run dinger to Franmil Reyes on a 3-1 pitch.  So falling behind in the count isn’t good.

Geoff Hartlieb got three outs to end the sixth with the Pirates still ahead, 6-5, but it didn’t last long.  Nik Turley quickly sank the game in the bottom of the seventh, on a hit batsman and two doubles against the first three hitters.  A wild pitch and a sacrifice fly brought in a third run to make it 8-6.

And that’s where it ended.  Blake Cederlind had a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth, but the Pirates managed just a walk over the last two innings.

In some ways, it may be just as well the season ended with a loss.  The team’s management seemed to be irrationally buoyed by the “strong” finish, which is a serious overreaction to winning four of six right after losing 13 of 14.  That reaction raised the specter of Neal Huntington’s delusional claim that the Pirates’ 4-24 stretch last year didn’t count because it was a statistical improbability.  The Pirates desperately need to drop their complacent insistence that this team is a few wise coaching words away from being good.  With largely the same cast of characters, they lost 93 games last year, went 3-18 in the spring, then posted a .317 winning percentage in the 60-game season.

By itself, this game illustrated a lot of the “evaluation” the Pirates should be doing in their search for reality.

— The Pirates’ paralyzing conservatism has led them to be fanatically cautious about giving roles to rookies.  It’s not just “Super Two,” either.  They’re just afraid to commit to inexperienced players.  I remain convinced that this was a major reason for the Archer trade.  Maybe Hayes will push them in a different direction.  After inordinate delay, he became not only their best player, but obviously their best player the moment he arrived.  He finished at 376/442/682.  Cederlind might help in that regard, too.

— J.T. Riddle had a big day, going 1-for-4 to vault his OPS all the way to .398.  The Pirates’ refusal to part with dismally performing veterans has been one of their signature tendencies in recent years.  A guy with Riddle’s numbers doesn’t belong on a major league roster, much less in the starting lineup a third of the time.  The Pirates, however, seem perfectly OK with it.  Their behavior just screams, “No accountability here, thank you!”

— Brubaker didn’t exactly pitch well, but he had an encouraging season after missing nearly all of last year.  He shouldn’t be a lock for the rotation next year, but he deserves it more than Trevor Williams.

— Turley may not be that good.  His WHIP is a lot better than his ERA, but he had a .192 BABIP coming into the final game.  The Pirates get the same attachment to fungible veteran relievers that they develop for sub-replacement bench players.  They need to keep working to get better than this.

— I’ve never been a big Osuna fan, but it was hard to believe he was as awful as his numbers looked for much of the year.  He finished well, with a higher OPS than Bryan Reynolds, at least.  He could have, and should have, gotten a lot of the playing time that went to Riddle and Jarrod Dyson.  Again, the Pirates favored proven sub-mediocrities over products of their own system.

— Eric Gonzalez went 0-for-4 to finish in a 7-for-63 skid.  By some coincidence, that left him with a .614 OPS, about where he’s always been.  But his early hot streak led the Pirates to latch on to him as their everyday shortstop.  Will they cling to their insistence that he’s a still-developing prospect or will they check his bb-ref page and see that he’s 29 now?