PITTSBURGH — After optimism and hope spreading throughout much of the Pirates’ fanbase upon climbing over the .500 mark exactly one week ago, hopes have quickly been dashed by a five-game losing streak.
Now at 18-22, run support has become a serious issue, as the Pirates bats have continually struggled. But maybe just as troublesome are the runs allowed by Pirates pitching in situations that could easily be avoided.
With two outs, Pirates pitchers have done a horrible job. In each of the last five games the opposition has scored at least once run with two outs. Let’s start with yesterday’s game — a 9-6 loss to the Brewers.
In the second inning, Pirates starter Kevin Correia recorded two quick outs but was unable finish the inning without some damage. After a walk, Ryan Braun tripled to drive in a run to improve Milwaukee’s lead to 5-0.
Correia gave up another extra-base hit in the third inning when Jonathan Lucroy doubled, driving in another run. Chris Resop relieved Correia in the fifth and Lucroy did it again, this time hitting a two-run homer to left-center for an 8-5 lead.
That’s four runs scored with two outs on the board. And what’s even more concerning is Correia, who was responsible for three of those runs, had the same problem in his previous start against Los Angeles last Tuesday.
Correia looked spectacular through five innings, allowing very little to the Dodgers. With a scoreless tie in the top of the sixth, it appeared the Pirates were going to blank L.A. once again with outs on the inning’s first two batters.
Such wasn’t the case, though, as Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles singled. Andre Ethier followed with a run-scoring single and Matt Kemp blasted a three-run bomb to center field on the very next pitch. All of a sudden the Pirates were down 4-0 and the game spiraled out of control from there.
Correia is easily the worst of the staff lately in these situations and, consequently, has seen his ERA (3.97) and record (5-4) suffer. All told, Correia has allowed seven runs after two outs in his last two appearances.
Now back to the Brewers series, in which the Pirates were swept.
On Saturday, Jeff Karstens gave up a solo homer to right with two outs to push the Brewers’ lead to 2-0. James McDonald had a similar problem on Friday, as Braun knocked a two-run single to center field for a 5-2 lead.
So in the Brewers series alone the Pirates gave up seven runs with two outs.
As I previously stated, Correia had trouble in this situation against Los Angeles, allowing four runs in the sixth. Later in that same game, Mike Crotta and Resop struggled through a horrendous eighth inning.
Resop ended up allowing two runs on a single by Miles. Both runs were charged to Crotta.
In the following game of that series, Los Angeles scored twice in the sixth inning. The Dodgers ended up winning 2-0 and the second run of the inning, scored by Ethier, came with two outs.
So all told in this five-game losing streak, Pirates pitchers have allowed 14 runs with two outs. You’re not going to win many baseball games that way.
Just as the pitching has struggled on the mound, it has been unable to retire the easiest out of the inning — the No. 9 spot.
Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo posted a two-hit evening Friday night, scoring two runs and driving in one in a 5-2 win. Dodgers starter Chad Billingsly went 2-for-2 with a double one week ago and Padres starter Matt Latos homered off Pirates pitching back in the San Diego series on May 3.
Brewers starter Zack Greinke nearly homered as well Sunday afternoon, coming just feet short of a home run to left-center.
Simple situations like closing an inning out with two outs, or getting a sure out when the opposing pitcher is at the plate, are must-have situations for Pittsburgh. Such struggles can’t continue.
Maybe one small bright spot from the Milwaukee series was the realization that Ronny Cedeno has started to turn things around with his bat.
In the month of May Cedeno is batting .308 with one home run and six RBIs. He has hits in 11 of 13 games this month, and 13 of the last 15 games dating back to the series at Colorado to end the month of April.
He has scored eight runs this month and is finally giving the Pirates consistency and the type of production they need at the plate from a starting shortstop. Maybe the recent acquisition of Brandon Wood has finally pushed Cedeno in to playing to his potential.
Significant improvements still need to be made in his fielding, though.
Chris Gates | Bucs Blog