The difference between last night and tonight was night and day. Last night Jeff Locke had a horrible time finding the strike zone and tonight Edison Volquez pounded the zone and struck out double-digit Braves. Last night the Pirates offense had some base runners and couldn't string together some hits outside of an Andrew McCutchen home run and tonight the Pirates hit the ball all over the field with extra base hits and never gave the Braves a chance. Good teams beat bad teams and this series the good team beat the bad team three out of four times.
Man, was I wrong about Edison Volquez. Before the season started I sent a tweet out saying that Volquez's starts were going to terrify me and I couldn't have been more wrong. The Pirates took a game on a guy that wasn't very good last year and they made him into a guy that is probably going to be their number three starter if they make it to the NLDS. Volquez went seven innings on the night striking out 10 and giving up only four hits and a walk. He made Braves hitter look silly and for only $5M this season he racked up a 13-7 record with a 3.04 ERA in 191.2 innings. That is what I call good value. He threw 66 of his 95 pitches for strikes and looked in total control. Early in the season I was a little worried from start-to-start about him falling apart but now I feel as good about him as I do about anyone else on the staff.
The offense stepped up in a big way. Not that they needed to with the way Volquez pitched but over the last week or so the offense has been a little stagnant. This is a very good offensive team so I wasn't really worried about them but it was just nice to see things go the right way and not play these low scoring tight games. The Pirates racked up 16 hits from 10 different players with Josh Harrison and Travis Snider each having three hits while Starling Marte and Ike Davis both had a pair of hits. Even Volquez got into the action with his second hit of the night!
Neil Walker hit a bomb for his first hit in 18 at bats and his second hit in 27 at bats. Not that he hasn't hit the ball hard at times but as a former player I know how frustrating slumps can be. You can do everything right and still come up on the wrong end. In baseball the very best players fail 70% of the time and even though this is just one of many home runs for Walker this year this probably felt like one of the best, even in a blowout.
Something that really gets overlooked on a game-to-game basis is the play of Jordy Mercer. Sure we can talk about offense and how he has been worlds better than anyone to play shortstop for the Pirates in the short memory but his defense has really been outstanding. I was never really down on his defense but there have been limitations of his defense, in my mind. All he has done is made play after play out there. He has been increasingly good at making the play in the hole and throwing on the run and that only makes him a more valuable player for the Pirates.
Good series in Atlanta. As I said last night it wasn't going to be easy at all to go in and sweep a four game set but winning three of those games is perfect. With the Cardinals off tonight the Pirates are now only one game back with three to go. The Pirates have the Reds and the Cardinals have the Diamondbacks. The Giants are just getting their game underway and the Pirates magic number to host the Wild Card game is now only two. Good place to be if you ask me. A sweep is necessary to win, or force a one game playoff against the Cardinals but the Reds aren't good so it isn't as unlikely as you may think. Should be a fun three games and a fun time scoreboard watching.