The Pirates lost today when, yet again, 2016 Francisco Liriano did his best impersonation of 2011 Francisco Liriano, walking five batters in only 4.1 innings and blowing a 4-0 lead. He had help from his bullpen buddy Jared Hughes, who has a strand rate this year that is completely out of line with his recent seasons (he was fifth in inherited runners stranded last year, which isn’t a great stat but shows the trust Clint Hurdle had in him and his effectiveness in getting the outs he needed). This is old hat at this point in the 2016 season and is the reason the Buccos are still 3 games under .500.
Despite today’s loss, this was a big weekend for the Bucs. They took 3 of 4 in the weird wraparound series (seriously, how often does this happen during the season? I can only think of a few times I know of each year) against one of their main rivals for a spot in the play-in game. Furthermore, they beat Clayton freaking Kershaw (this seems like a good time to remind you that the Pirates picked Brad Lincoln ahead of Kershaw, Lincecum, and Scherzer in that draft) yesterday, scoring four runs off of him in one inning and springboarding off that inning to a 4-3 victory that was, by far, Kershaw’s worst start of the year. This is pretty incredible for the Pirates offense to do something like this against Kershaw. Seriously, he’s been otherworldly this year, pitching what could go down as the greatest season in pitching history. (This is not hyperbole.) So let’s not understate the Pirates’ achievement on Sunday.
They also won a game in this series in which Jeff Locke pitched well again. You could make the argument that Gerrit Cole returning could displace anyone but Taillon from the rotation, but Locke seems like a lock to remain there, at least until he inevitably puts on a terrible display of pitching for a few games in a row.
After this weekend’s series, I feel this weird glimmer of hope about the Pirates season coming up. Cole and Cervelli should both be back soon. Andrew McCutchen hit two homers in a game and doesn’t really have anywhere to go but up. Jeff Locke is okay again, Jameson Taillon has been good enough and occasionally great, and Chad Kuhl looked like he could stick in the rotation for a while. Maybe my I’m confusing just getting a few wins as a “weird glimmer of hope” in the Pirates season, but you have to start somewhere. Getting these wins was a big start, and we’re at the point where the Pirates schedule should start to get a little easier. I think in the broadcast on Sunday, they pointed out that something like 34 of the Pirates’ last 70 games are against the Phillies, Reds, and Brewers. Those could be mop up games which could help the Bucs get back into the Wild Card, which I’ll remind you that they’re only 4.5 games out of at the time of this writing.
I wrote recently about how I just wanted the Pirates to do something different. The injections into the rotation of Jameson Taillon followed by Chad Kuhl has given the Pirates a bit of a new look, in addition to raising the spirits of fans by giving them ample opportunity to make plenty of puns. Furthermore, surprise additions like Adam Frazier have given the already-potent Bucs offense a boost. Maybe the key is just to let the young guns run free and hope that they’re able to take the league by storm and drag the rest of the sorry bums on this team into the playoffs. Glasnow may have walk problems, but Liriano has them too and Jon Niese just has pitching problems, so Glasnow has to be an upgrade, right?
The Bucs head out west to take on the Mariners during the week and the A’s over the weekend (I’m quite bummed that I’m missing the Pirates in Oakland after having lived there for a few years, especially since tickets are insanely cheap), both of whom are at or under .500. The Pirates are built to be effective when the DH is in play and could potentially have a really good week against these two. The pitching staff needs to continue to take the minor steps they’ve been taking toward the path to improvement. Or maybe major steps, since the season is about halfway done at this point.
No matter what, the Pirates still have a lot to play for this season, especially with the schedule they have remaining. This weekend was proof of what this team is capable of and even had a signature win against the best pitcher in baseball who could be a possible opponent in the Wild Card game. On to interleague play!