One odd feature of a season as sorry as the one the Pirates are having is that every little, random thing that happens somehow seems to illustrate just how inept they are, both their play and their decision making. Today’s 3-1 loss to Washington, giving the Nationals a sweep and the Pirates their tenth straight loss, fit the pattern.
Take Derek Shelton’s decision to bat for Chase De Jong in the top of the fifth. De Jong was having a fine game, giving up just a run — another homer by Yan Gomes — on four hits. He even pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the bottom of the fourth. The score was just 1-0, but Shelton seems to go by a tenure-based rule: If you’ve been around the majors a few years, like Chad Kuhl or Tyler Anderson, you get to stay in. If you haven’t, like De Jong or J.T. Brubaker, you have to come out as soon as somebody sneezes. Performance and game situations don’t matter. Taking the best shot at winning doesn’t matter.
What was especially comical was that, his first time up, De Jong doubled off Nationals’ spot starter, Paolo Espino. That was the Pirates’ first baserunner, as Espino dominated them through their first eight batters and continued to do so through five innings. By contrast, Ka’ai Tom, batting .071 in June, came up and dribbled one back to the mound for an easy out.
A simpler example of the team’s comical futility: Cleanup hitter Gregory Polanco tried to bunt his way on in the second. Unsuccessfully, of course.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pirates game without a glaring failure to get a run home. They got runners to the corners with one out in the fourth when Bryan Reynolds doubled and took third on a single by Polanco. Phillip Evans, who’s more and more looking like one of the team’s many problems, whiffed and Ben Gamel grounded out.
The Pirates have a good bullpen, but far from a great one. That means that, if you have to run through 4-5 relievers, somebody isn’t going to be at his best. Of course, that’s why you don’t take out a starter who’s pitching very well in a close game and has thrown only 71 pitches.
Shelton went with Chasen Shreve and Chris Stratton in the fifth and sixth. They both got through their innings, although Stratton had to escape a bases-loaded, one-out jam. In the seventh, though, David Bednar gave up a two-run homer to Josh Bell.
Naturally, the Pirates got a run in the eighth. Ke’Bryan Hayes doubled and scored on a single by Reynolds. In the ninth, they got two on with two out, but that just gave Adam Frazier a chance to add to the team’s miserable record with runners in scoring position. He grounded out to end the game.
The Pirates are now 21 games under .500. They’ve lost 33 of their last 44. They do, however, have a new backup catcher at Indianapolis, so maybe they can turn things around.