PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – The Pirates’ Opening Day 5-3 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Monday was more disappointing than disconcerting, yet some are reacting as if this was the first in what will certainly be a 162-game losing streak and this team is destined for a horrible, no good, very bad season.
Here’s a tip to the uninitiated: The team with the best outfield in the National League this side of the Cubs is not going to lose 90 games, let alone the 100 or 160 all the chicken littles across Piratedom are seemingly predicting today.
Why? It’s simple: Stars will be stars. And on Opening Day, they weren’t.
Did the team’s No. 1 starter look downright Jon Neise-ish over the course of a 6-batter meltdown where just three balls left the infield? Yes.
Did he also, however, look dominant over the course of the first 4 2/3 innings, inducing soft contact and facing the minimum in the first three innings against what’s projected to be the fifth best offense in the American League? Yes.
Gerrit Cole looked exactly like what we wanted him to look like until almost 3:30 Monday afternoon, and exactly what the Pirates will need him to be if they want to have a legitimate chance of returning to the postseason: A darn-near Cy Young level staff ace.
Then came the fifth inning, and Cole wasn’t the only Pirates’ star to look mortal that inning.
Andrew McCutchen similarly looked like he’d remained back in 2016 as he misplayed a double by Jackie Bradley Jr. into a triple. Make the argument that the extra base didn’t matter, but consider how things play out if Bradley’s at second rather than third when Pablo Sandoval hits a roller deep into the hole on Jordy Mercer’s right: Bradley stays on the bag, and even if Sandoval is safe at first, Sandy Leon is facing a giant overshift when he comes to the plate. And perhaps he rolls over Cole’s four-seamer on outer edge and the Pirates go to the sixth down just 1-0.
McCutchen’s misplays in right field continued with a Xander Bogaerts foul ball eluding his reach down in the sixth as he lost awareness of where he was in relation to the short wall down the line. That didn’t go down as an error despite Bogaerts later singling, as Juan Nicasio was able to coax a grounder out of Bradley and a whiff from Sandoval, but it’s indicative of someone who’s never had to run toward foul ground to field a fly ball before at the Major League level.
While speaking of the former MVP centerfielder, we’d be remiss to ignore his 0-for-4 day at the plate with three strikeouts. It culminated in arguably the ugliest swing of his career, on a Matt Barnes hook that landed somewhere on Storrow Drive, approximately 2 1/2 miles in front of the plate, as Jordy Mercer stood on second base and Adam Frazier on first and just a two-run deficit separated the Bucs and the best team in the American League.
The same 2-on with 2-outs and a 2-run deficit scenario faced another Pirates’ star when Starling Marte came to the plate against Sox closer Craig Kimbrel in the top of the ninth. After coming through with a hard-hit sacrifice fly to left in the seventh, Marte chased a fastball on the black and rather than lacing it through the right side, got under it and popped out to end the ball game.
On Opening Day, the Red Sox got 6 1/3 innings from their Cy Young Award-winning starter, a 3-run homer from their Rookie of the Year candidate, and key contributions from names like Pedroia, Betts, Bradley, and Kimbrel.
The Pirates’ stars didn’t play like stars.
I wouldn’t bet on that happening 161 more times.