Game Recap: Bullpen Blows Chance at Sweep

On their 15th try at a series sweep, the Pirates got within one strike of succeeding.  But they wasted a dramatic, ninth-inning home run from Hoy Park, then blew a second one-run lead in the tenth and lost to Miami, 6-5.

The game had several notable takeaways.  One was the contributions from several on-the-bubble players, specifically Park, as well as Anthony Alford and Cole Tucker.  The last two have been the Bucs’ best hitters recently (but, yes, September stats . . .), and in this game nearly overcame a 1-for-13 showing from the 3-4-5 hitters, Ben Gamel, Colin Moran and Jacob Stallings.

The other takeaways were less welcome.  One was the team’s continuing, unimaginably awful hitting with runners in scoring position, 0-for-11 in this game.  The other was the surgical precision with which Derek Shelton manages to prevent or kill rallies every. single. time he inserts himself into the game.  In fact, the whole Marlins series was like a treatise on how a manager can keep his team from scoring runs.

Shelton didn’t wait long to resort to his special brand of tiddly-ball.  Ke’Bryan Hayes started the game with a single, so of course Shelton had Kevin Newman bunt him to second, even though Shelton’s repeated buntgasms have yet to produce a single success.  It did, however, give the Pirates a chance to experience some more failure with RISP, a chance they didn’t pass up.

The Marlins wouldn’t let Shelton get in their way in the second inning.  Tucker reached on an error by the pitcher, stole second and scored on another error by the pitcher.

In the third, Hayes made an out to start the inning.  But Shelton wouldn’t be deprived of a chance to play tiddly-ball again.  Newman singled, then got thrown out stealing.

There’s really a logical disconnect here.  In outdated baseball thinking, tiddly-ball is the go-to strategy for teams that lack hitting talent.  But why would a team that lacks the skills to score runs by doing all the other things that work on offense be any better at strategerizing its way to runs?  That’s especially true of the Pirates.  The average team hits better with RISP (251/337/417) than it does overall (243/317/410).  The Pirates, though, aren’t just the worst offensive team in baseball.  They’re even worse with RISP (214/307/318) than they are overall (235/308/362).  Given the massive flaws in the team’s approach to hitting that have led to these problems, why would anybody think they have the skills to dink their way to more runs than they can get through plain old hitting?

Anyway, Max Kranick got off to a great start.  He retired the first seven batters he faced, the last six of those on strikes.

The Marlins seemed to catch on the second time through the order, which has been a major problem for Kranick.  Before this game, opponents had a .601 OPS against him the first time they saw him in a game, but 1.193 the second time.  In this game, he gave up a two-run double to Joe Panik in the fourth, then allowed another run in the fifth to put Miami ahead, 3-1.

The Pirates continued to do their thing with scoring chances.  In the fourth, a double by Tucker put runners at second and third with one out, but they didn’t score.  In the seventh, they cut the deficit to 3-2 when Tucker led off with a single and Alford tripled him in.  But with Alford on third and nobody out, the Pirates of course didn’t score again.  And a leadoff double by Newman in the eighth produced nothing.

The bullpen kept the score at 3-2 for three innings, one each for Anthony Banda, Nick Mears and Shelby Miller.  Banda’s been scored upon in only one of eight outings in September.

In the ninth, Tucker walked to lead off and, with one out, Park hit his third home run of the year into the bullpen in right.  The Pirates led, 4-3.

Chris Stratton has been the main stabilizing force in the Pirates’ bullpen this year, but it’s doubtful whether he’s a closer.  In the bottom of the ninth, a walk and a ground out put a runner on third with two outs.  Stratton went to 2-2 on Bryan De La Cruz, then gave up a game-tying single to center.

The Pirates got the free runner home on a sacrifice fly by Gamel in the top of the tenth.  The bottom half, though, didn’t last long.  Chad Kuhl went to a full count on the first hitter he faced, Lewin Diaz, then gave up a walkoff home run.

Tucker went 2-for-3 and scored three times.  He now has his average all the way up to .211, having gone 6-for-11 in this series.  Alford had the triple in four at-bats and is batting 283/340/609 in September.