Colin Moran led the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first away-series win against the Washington Nationals since 2013. On Friday, Moran had the game-winning pinch-hit three-run homer in the top of the 10th inning. He started in the next two games and added a total of three hits and two RBI. For the weekend, Moran was 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
Colin Moran Leads the Way
Both of the Pirates’ wins were courtesy of clutch hits late in the game. On Friday, Moran’s home run was the deciding hit.
Then on Sunday, Jason Martin gave the Pirates the late lead with an RBI ground-rule double.
— Pirates (@Pirates) April 14, 2019
The Pirates had the lead on Saturday also. They scored first in the fourth inning when Moran doubled to right and plated Josh Bell. The Nationals responded with a run of their own in the bottom half with an RBI single. Melky Cabrera then clubbed a solo homer that got stuck in the garage door in right field to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth.
— Pirates (@Pirates) April 13, 2019
This lead held until the bottom of the eighth. Chris Archer continued the trend of great starting pitching as he went seven innings and only allowed one run while fanning nine batters. Clint Hurdle went to the bullpen to start the eighth inning, and Richard Rodriguez was stung by the Home Run Bug once again. On consecutive pitches, he gave up back-to-back solo home runs to Adam Eaton and Howie Kendrick. The Pirates did not rally in the ninth, leading to the 3-2 defeat.
What Went Well
There is a major difference between the weekend series against the Nationals and the rest of the season. One word…errors. The Pirates had committed 14 errors in the 11 games prior to this past weekend. They committed zero against Washington. Strong defense allows teams to stay in games, which is why the Pirates were in a dogfight all three days with a very good team.
Starting pitching also continued to eat up innings for its bullpen. Trevor Williams went 6 1/3 and gave up only two runs, Chris Archer pitched seven innings of one-run baseball, and Jameson Taillon reached the end of the sixth inning as well, allowing three runs.
If the Pirates’ starting rotation wasn’t getting enough attention, they are about to get even more as they broke a franchise record this past weekend. Adam Eaton’s run in the first inning on Sunday was the first that Pittsburgh had allowed in the opening frame this season. This stretch is now the Pirates’ record for the most consecutive games to start a season without allowing a run in the first. The Pirates have been around for 133 years, so this is a very impressive number set by this year’s rotation.
The Pirates’ trend of being let down by their bullpen continued this week. Pittsburgh has scored first in 11 of their 14 games so far this season. Combined with the stellar starting pitching, one would assume that they would have won 9-10 of these games. However, the Pirates are 7-4 in games in which they scored first. How is this possible?
Last season, two of the Pirates’ best relievers were Keone Kela and Richard Rodriguez. This season, they account for 10 of the 20 runs allowed by the bullpen. Together, they have pitched for 12 1/3 innings and own a 7.30 ERA. The entire ‘pen has an ERA of 4.01. Take out the Pirates’ two setup pitchers, and the ERA drastically drops to a very good 2.77. This trend can not continue if the Pirates hope to win close games. Getting Kyle Crick back from the IL should help, as he is expected to be activated on Tuesday.
After Rodriguez blew the lead on Saturday, Hurdle made the decision to use closer Felipe Vasquez for a two-inning save on Sunday. Despite loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Vazquez got Kendrick looking at strike three and forced a fly out to Rendon to end the game. In total, he allowed three hits and struck out three. He had to throw 43 pitches, however, making him potentially unavailable for the Pirates’ next game. Luckily, the Pirates have an off-day on Monday, so he could be used if completely necessary against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.
The Pirates week started like this…
Báez off the bounce. ? pic.twitter.com/gFbtDKCZL4
— MLB (@MLB) April 8, 2019
Then, Taillon took a line drive to the head, for the second time in his career.
Watch Jameson Taillon take a baseball to the head going 102 mph off the bat of Anthony Rizzo. Was evaluated and managed to stay in the game, and will continue to be monitored. pic.twitter.com/1sTy4TWb3e
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) April 8, 2019
This was in the same inning that Kevin Newman committed three errors, all with two outs. Taillon would have been heading into the third with less than 40 pitches and a scoreless game. Instead, he had to exit the game with six unearned runs scoring, and the Pirates looked deflated the rest of the game allowing the Cubs to walk all over them and win 10-0.
Jordan Lyles was dealing in game two as the Pirates brought around five runs on nine hits, and won the game 5-2 before being shut out 2-0 on Thursday and suffering the series loss.
All in all, a shaky start to the week ended much better as the Pirates now sit in third place in the NL Central, half a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals and one game back of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates will look to ride this momentum into the following week as they travel to Detroit for a quick two-game series before coming home for a three-game set against the San Francisco Giants.
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