Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pirates Game 3 Recap - Pirates 5, Phillies 4

The Pirates did it again. In front of over 19,000 on Easter Sunday they walked it off again on the Phillies and took the series from the cross state counterparts. Unlike the past two games the Pirates offense woke up and had some outstanding at bats and some clutch hits late. Man, how good does it feel to beat Philadelphia.

The Phillies pretty much were cruising early and built a two run lead for the first time in this three game series. Actually this was pretty much Hunter Pence owning James McDonald as he doubled home Shane Victorino in the first inning and hit a massive 432 foot bomb in the fourth inning to the North Side Notch.

The Pirates responded in the fifth when Pedro Alvarez went big fly for the first time this season with a 403 foot shot to right field that cleared the seats and left the stadium. The ball was absolutely crushed. I will talk a little later about why this home run was good, outside of the main reasons.

The Phillies looked like they pretty much shut the game down in the seventh inning. Jared Hughes came on in relief of McDonald and gave up a leadoff walk and then Freddy Galvis went to bunt Wigginton over and all hell broke loose. Actually it was just a regular bunt but Hughes got the ball and threw it to Neil Walker who was covering first and Walker just whiffed on a pretty routine catch. Just an unreal mistake. Runners were then on first and third with no outs and Huges was able to get two outs before Juan Pierre (yes, he is still in the league) singled to right to score two runs and give Philadelphia the 4-1 lead. With the way the Pirates offense has been playing it was pretty safe to bet that they weren’t going to come back. Well…

The Bucs got two back in the seventh inning to stay alive but it was really a gift from the Phillies that made it possible. Mike Stutes came on and got Clint Barmes and Alvarez to both strike out but Alvarez was able to reach which Wigginton wasn’t able to catch the throw from the catcher. After a Michael McKenry fly out Casey McGehee doubled to right to score Alvarez and Alex Presley singled to score McGehee. Great bounce back.

In the eighth and the Pirates down one they were able to tie it up. McCutchen singled off Kyle Kendrick to start the inning off and then with one out stole second base. Yamaico Navarro then had an amazing plate appearance against then reliever Bastardo to draw a walk before Barmes again struck out swinging. Clint Hurdle then called on Matt Hague to pinch hit for Alvarez and Hague picked up his first major league hit on a single to left field that scored McCutchen and tie the ballgame.

Joel Hanrahan came on and absolutely dominated the Phillies in the top of the ninth inning and then the Bucs got to work. McGehee came up to lead off the inning and crushed a double to the notch and was pinch ran for by Josh Harrison. After an Presley sacrifice and a Tabata strikeout McCutchen came up and smashed a “single” to dead center to score Harrison from third and walk it off.

The first major thing that you have to wonder about this game is how you pitch to McCutchen in that situation. Due to the double switch a few innings before the Pirates had the pitchers spot coming up at fifth in the order and with first and second open you could easily walk McCutchen and Walker and face the Pirates last bench option which was Rod Barajas. No idea why you pitch to easily the best hitter on the team with two bases open.

Also look at the pitch on the game winning hit in two screen shots:

What a mistake for a pitch. With bases open you can’t miss down the middle like that. Just an amazing error.

You know what really has me wondering, where is your best reliever. The Phillies are paying Jonathan Papelbon a ton of money to be their best arm in the back end and he wasn’t used at all. You want to know why I think the closer role is extremely overrated? This is the exact reason. He could have been used in a high leverage situation in the eighth inning with two outs but istead the Phillies wanted to wait for the ninth and they paid. In the ninth they could have used him to get through the meat of the order and they didn’t do that because it wasn’t a save situation. High leverage situations in each the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and your best reliever didn’t throw a single pitch. That is why the notion of a “closer” is amazingly overrated.

McDonald had a pretty solid outing. He threw a ton of pitches in the first inning but really settled down and got some tough outs and pitched an effective baseball game. He was on a pretty short leash just like the other to starters were this series and only threw 82 pitches and 51 of those went for strikes. His curveball was pretty filthy all day and used it to only allow four hits and issued only two walks. He only got three strikeouts but they were very timely ones in the latter innings. Like I said the first inning wasn’t very good but he got it together really quick and probably would have got through seven pretty easy if he were left out there and that is something he only did twice all of last season.

The bullpen was alright. Hughes really was the toughest of the three and he didn’t look that great. He gave up two walks and when he was hitting the strike zone he wasn’t hitting his spots. It is only one outing so it wasn’t a big deal but he was almost able to get out of it without giving up a run but left a pitch right in the middle of the plate to Pierre and it cost him. Evan Meek threw a scoreless inning and his outing wasn’t really that impressive. Fastball was around 92 and none of his pitches were moving very much so hopefully he can figure it out. Hanrahan was money. Seriously, filthy.

McCutchen and McGehee were the stars of an offensive show that banged out 11 hits. Really good to see from an offense that was so inept for the first two games. Cutch had a 3-for-4 day while McGehee had a pair of doubles in his only two at bats that really was the reason the Pirates had any chance in this game. It’s early but it is good to see that McGehee is swinging the bat well.

What was really impressive today was there were a good bit of excellent at bats. Tabata and Navarro had a pair of them and McCutchen had another. Really good to see that the hitters are making some adjustments as the game went on and when they needed to have good at bats they did that. While Tabata’s didn’t result in a hit he took the count deep and made the pitcher earn it and Navarro has really shown outstanding plate disciple in his two plate appearances so far to earn a pair of walks.

While Alvarez did strike out a pair of times he did hit a monster home run. He also scored a pair of runs which is pretty important too. Something that Pat from WHYGAVS was talking about during the game was that Pedro really made an adjustment in his second at bats (home run at bat) from his first at bat which resulted in a strikeout. I went back and looked at what Pat was talking about and he was spot on. Vance Worley pitched him nearly the same in both at bats and Alvarez was able to recognize that and pound a mistake nearly to the river. Here are the plots, the first at bat followed by the second:

Sure the pitches are exactly in the same spots but the premise of the at bat was the same. The first time Worley got the best of Alvarez and the second at bat Pedro understood what Worley was trying to do and made him pay for it. This is really what you like to see from Pedro and what he hasn’t been able to do in the past.

There was some bad. Namely Barmes and Jones continue to struggle in a big way. Outside of a long drive to left field on opening night Barmes has looked really bad at the plate and really is frustrating to watch. It will be interesting to see if Navarro gets some playing time soon. Jones looks pretty lost at the plate and with no real advantage on defense it isn’t good. I know it is only two games but at what point do the Pirates play the hot hand in McGehee? It is only a couple of games so I am not all that worried but the question had to be asked.

Taking two of three from the Phillies is really huge considering how badly the Pirates played in the first two nights. The starting pitchers did a hell of a job keeping the team into the game and the hitters figured it out in game three when they needed to score more than two runs. They now go to play the Dodgers/Giants/Diamondbacks on the road and while some people this is a daunting schedule I don’t. The Dodgers are a pretty average team (at best) and the Giants lack and form of offense. The Diamondbacks are a really solid team but overall but I wouldn’t be shocked one bit to have a .500 team after this West coast swing.

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