Game Recap: Bullpen Meltdown Turns Lead Into Blowout Loss

Every time the Pirates string together a few good games and start to look like a major league team, they fall back into “Why are we here?” mode.  Tonight they continued embarrassing themselves against what was baseball’s most embarrassing team as the bullpen coughed up eight runs in the seventh in an 11-6 loss to Arizona.

It looked good at the midpoint as the Pirates took a 5-1 lead in the top of the fifth.  They got a two-run home run from Gregory Polanco, his tenth longball of the year, in the top of the fourth.  In the fifth, Ben Gamel drove in a run with a ground out and John Nogowski followed with a two-run blast, his first homer as a Pirate.

Tyler Anderson started strongly, allowing no hits over the first three innings.  In the fourth he gave up an RBI double to Eduardo Escobar.  In the fifth, four singles brought in a run and loaded the bases with one out, but Anderson got Josh Rojas to hit into a 1-2-3 double play.  Christian Walker doubled in a run with nobody out in the sixth, but Anderson stranded him.  Throughout, Anderson threw strikes, 56 of them out of 77 pitches.  He fanned seven and walked only one.

Despite the low pitch count, and despite stating before the game that the bullpen was overworked, Derek Shelton sent Austin Davis out for the seventh.  Davis and Clay Holmes, who relieved him with one out, apparently didn’t watch Anderson too closely.  They walked four in the inning and also allowed six hits.  They each were charged with four runs, although two of Davis’ scored after Holmes took over.  That put the D’backs up, 11-5, and at least added some clarity on the question whether they Pirates have a good, or even decent, bullpen.  They don’t.

Apart from the two dingers, the hitters once again struggled against the league’s worst pitching staff.  The worst moment came when Miguel Perez led off the third with the first of his two doubles and went to third when Anderson’s bunt went for a hit.  The top of the order — Adam Frazier, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds — all struck out.  Hayes and Frazier did eventually get two hits apiece, and Hayes drove in the final run in the ninth.

In all, the Pirates whiffed 13 times, eight by the first four hitters, including Gamel.  In their usual tiresome pattern, they went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.  And in case you’re wondering, it’s not just the product of them being by far the league’s worst-hitting team.  The average NL team hits better w/RISP than overall, 247/341/409 vs. 239/317/398.  The Pirates are hitting a miserable 237/309/366 overall, but they’re much worse w/RISP:  210/306/320.  So tomorrow the Pirates, who haven’t swept anybody all year, will try to avoid being swept by a team that came into the series 41 games under .500.