There have been a few moments throughout this season (thankfully, far fewer than last year) when things will transpire in a Pirate game in such a way that I am forced to admit — we are a bad team. The entirety of the 10-1 loss that I witnessed at Citi Field in May was once such moment, and I had another pop up yesterday night, while watching the bottom of the second inning against the Giants, in which the defense was at once quirky and awful, which, in turn, dug a hole, out of which the Pirates were helpless to rescue themselves.
First there was a high chopper to short that ate Jack up. (You know things have to be uber-frustrating for me to utter a discouraging word against him. And, so that the trend does not continue, let me also utter a word of commendation for his tremendous, classic Jack stop-in-the-hole-followed-by-a-strike-to-first, which took place in bottom of the first.) Then there was the bizarre routine fly that Garrett Jones backed away from at the last minute, apparently thinking Andrew McCutchen would take it. (He didn’t, and it was scored a two-run triple.) Then, on the very next batter (Randy Winn), a short pop to right bounced off of Jones’ glove, was quasi-booted by his shin and foot, and landed in the outstretched hand of second baseman Delwyn Young. It was a fantastic (albeit strange) play, one that would have been even more so if it had been correctly scored an out, rather than another run-scoring hit. (Young did manage to throw out Winn as he danced too far off of first.) But the damage was done by that point, and the four-run lead to which the Giants had staked themselves would prove insurmountable.
The annoying thing is, it didn’t have to be that way. I’m not making excuses here (certainly not for my man “Money” Maholm, who continues to look, well, anything but). But if you take away the three runs the Pirates essentially gave the Giants in that second inning, it’s a completely different ballgame. Of course, if you take away Edgar Renteria’s error that led to the Pirates scoring in the sixth, it’s another totally different ballgame. So I suppose it’s better to not get involved with the “what if”s.
Besides, this game was not really as close as its 4-2 score would indicate. Maholm struggled mightily (the Giants could have easily scored more, if not for some defensive plays that were as impressive as the others were putrid). On the flip side, the Giants’ Tim Lincecum was absolutely dealing, from the very first batter of the game onwards. The fact that the Pirates scored one run off of him, much less two, is still kind of hard to believe. After all, this came against the man who also set down fifteen of their brethren via the strikeout, including six on three pitches each. (Yikes.) There’s no doubt that Lincecum is just filthy, and one has to wonder if the Pirates need an ace of that caliber, too, before they can even think about a winning season, much less contention.
One also has to wonder about Freddy’s mysterious knee injury. The timing of this injury (which I am avoiding putting in quotation marks for the time being), the week of the trade deadline, means that conspiracy theories are running rampant, and I’d like to throw my own into the mix. I think that the Pirates’ management really does want to hold on to Freddy past the trade deadline. It’s known that the Giants are one of his biggest suitors, so what better way to spoil their covetousness than to sit him. Not only does this deny them a good, up-to-the-minute view of his play, but it also puts that most horrid of labels, “injury-prone,” into the minds of the Giants’ brass.
Of course, there are two other explanations, which are both more simple and more likely — first, Freddy really is hurt, and second, he’s been slumping really badly, and facing one of the game’s premier pitchers would probably not be much of a confidence boost.
Of equal interest as the games this week, is, of course, that aforementioned trade deadline. Most sources now have Freddy and Jack getting dealt by week’s end. So as I sleepily follow the Buccos on the West Coast (I conked out in the seventh last night, and would predict an earlier demise tonight), I also hesitantly check all the trade rumor websites. Because much as I hate moments like last night’s bottom of the second, the moment when one or both of my favorite Buccos is traded? Well, that would be a moment hard to get over.
Encouraging sign of the game: Despite what his two strikeouts last night might indicate, Steve Pearce has looked significantly less overmatched at the plate during this most recent recall to the Majors. He even got a double off of Lincecum! Pearce’s performance over the remainder of the season remains a story to watch.
Discouraging sign of the game: The defense, which has been so good, kind of pooped out last night.
Things that make you go “hmm” (in a good way): Delwyn Young continues to swing a hot stick, particularly when he starts. Might he be a suitable replacement for Freddy, at least in the short term?
Things that make you go “hmm” (in a not-so-good way): Maholm seems to be racking up more iffy-to-awful starts than quality-to-impressive. I think he might be hurting a little bit more than he’s letting on, which could be a major problem from here on out.
Jolly Rog status: Lowered, and, in some ways, at his lowest of the year, with the Pirates now at a season-worst 13 games under .500. And yet this Jolly Rog also remains optimistic that the Buccos can do good things against Barry Zito tonight.