First half Jeff Locke was really, really good for the Pirates. Second half Locke has been horribly brutal for the Pirates. Coming into tonight Locke had a 5.89 ERA in the second half allowing hitters to hit .324/.423/.426 and he walked 31 in 44.1 innings while having a WHIP of 1.99. In other words he was about as bad as you could expect him to be. The good thing for the Pirates tonight was that first half Jeff Locke showed up and he was outstanding. He three-hit the Cubs through seven innings and turned the ball over to a good bullpen and the Pirates earned their fourth straight victory. Winning is fun.
Locke was really just outstanding tonight. As I said above he was really struggling in the second half of the season but tonight we got to see the guy that was picked as an All-Star. He went seven innings and gave up only three hits and one run. The best part of the whole night was that he was able to keep his command as he walked only one hitter and was fairly routinely ahead of hitters. This was something that Locke wasn't doing before and was really a main reason why he was struggling so bad. He got back to pitching inside with confidence and while the Cubs hitters weren't going to pose a huge challenge it was good to see him tighten up and throw more strikes. If the Pirates can get this Locke the rest of the season it is going to be a HUGE boost going forward.
The Pirates were facing a lefty tonight so you figured the offense was really going to be able to give Locke some run support, but it never did. Looking at the box score is going to show you only six hits and two runs but the Pirates were peppering the ball pretty hard all over the field. Outs are outs but most of the Pirates outs were hard hit baseballs that were right at guys and I can't really get all that bent out of shape about that. The Pirates only struck out twice and they used one inning, the fourth inning, to get some runs and the pen made it count.
Actually of all the Pirates hits tonight they actually had all but two of those hits in one inning. With one out Jordy Mercer singled through the left side and then moved to third on an Andrew McCutchen double that hit the third base bag. The Pirates continued to be brutally bad in base running on third base as Mercer ran on contact on a ball right back to the pitcher and was gunned out at home but he was picked up by Marlon Byrd who tied the game with a single. Pedro Alvarez then came up against lefty starter Chris Rusin and blasted a pitch that one-bounced the wall in right field to plate the second run which turned out to be the winner.
The Pirates got an insurance run in the eighth inning when Clint Barmes had a two out single and then Jordy Mercer doubled him home with a shot into the right-center gap. They had a chance to get much more than that as they loaded the bases with two outs and forced (I guess) the Cubs to use four pitchers to get three outs (with two of the pitchers not even recording an out) but Byrd struck out to end the threat.
The pen has been a bit shaky lately but Tony Watson came in and was perfect in the eighth inning followed by Mark Melancon in the ninth who bounced back from a really shaky outing against Texas to pick up the save despite having a couple of base runners on to leadoff the inning (I don't really count one of them since it was a strikeout that got past Russell Martin).
This is exactly what the Pirates need to do this home stand. It is eight games long against the Cubs and Padres and they need to stack some wins to give themselves a chance to fight for the NL Central title down the final few weeks of the season. As I am typing this the Brewers are beating the Cardinals and if that score holds the Pirates and Cardinals will be deadlocked for first place in the division. If the Cardinals win it is only a one game deficit still with the Pirates on a four game winning streak and the team 24 games over .500. Not too shabby Pirates, not too shabby.