Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tweets from Last Night: 12 Takeaways from the Pirates Extra Inning Loss

The Bucs lost 3-0 in 12 innings to the Red Sox Wednesday night. Here is what you need to know:

1.) Jameson Taillon was outstanding. He opened the game by going up the ladder to strike out Dustin Pedroia and generally showed a fastball that sat mid-90s.  But the key for Taillon was his ability to consistently get his curveball over for strikes.
In the fifth Taillon flashed his repertoire. With runners on first and third, no outs he struck out Pablo Sandoval with a 96 mph fastball. He K'd Sandy Leon with an 82 mph curve and he got Pedroia to bounce harmlessly back to the mound. He finished the night 7IP, 5H, 0R, 3BB, 6K, 95-59.

2.) Chris Sale was even better than Taillon and will challenge for the American League Cy Young Award.

He finished the night 7IP, 3H, 0R, 1BB, 7K, 104-69 and induced 14 swinging strikes. Sale showed four different pitches, consistently mixed speeds and had Pirates hitters off balance all night. The Pirates didn't have a base runner reach second base. Enough said.

3.) The Pirates flashed some leather. Andrew McCutchen, who looked out-of-sorts in the opener on Monday, made two good defensive plays. The big one was gunning down Leon at home after a sharp Pedroia single to right with two outs in the third. Leon ran through a stop sign and Cutch fired an 89-mph strike to Francisco Cervelli for the out. Cutch's throw will get most of the attention but it was Cervelli's short-hop scoop and tag that really deserves the gold star.
In the fourth inning Cutch also made a good catch at the wall on Mitch Moreland on a ball that might have gone out while earlier in the inning David Freese made an excellent barehand pickup and throw on a slow roller to nail Xander Bogaerts. The play ended up being reviewed and was too close to overturn. The replay took a relatively painless 1 minute and 15 seconds.
4.) I'm going to continue my years-long battle with ROOT Sports.
ROOT refuses to leave the K-box up on the side of the screen. I don't know if this is because they have a sponsor that they like to feature when they show replays or something else, but with today's technology, I basically find this inexcusable.

5.) Not much offense on display by either team the first two games of the season. The Bucs and Red Sox have played 41 frames and put up runs in 3 of them.
The were some swings, almost exclusively by the Sox, where off the bat they seemed to be trouble--Moreland's was a prime example--but the ball didn't carry.

6.) The Pirates finally got a leadoff batter on in the ninth for the first time all night when Jordy Mercer reached on a Pablo Sandoval error. Starling Marte, arguably the team's best hitter, strode to the plate. Only one thing went through my mind:
Hurdle bunted with Marte. He popped it up to Sandoval for an easy out. (EDIT: From the postgame comments it sounds like Marte bunted on his own. Hurdled said there was no bunt sign on, but didn't want to criticize his player "...when he says he's trying to help you win a game." This type of thing happened multiple times last season. If Marte did bunt on his own that's on the staff too. They have to better educate the players to game situations. Either way, not good.)
Cutch and Polanco followed with groundouts to second. The Pirates best chance was by the boards. The 27 outs are your most precious assets. Don't give them away!

7.) I really like the Pirates bullpen. I wrote about it on Opening Day. I'd love to see Hurdle utilize Rivero and Nicasio as Andrew Miller, multi-inning guys. Rivero's stuff is filthy and I think he may end up being one of the dominant relievers in the game sooner rather than later.
Typically we kill managers for leaving their best relievers in the bullpen on the road in the ninth inning as they wait for the save situation. (See playoffs 2016 Buck Showalter, Zach Britton.) The Pirates may find themselves in a similar situation to the Indians last year. Cody Allen was set as the closer while Andrew Miller, an equally good if not better reliever, could be used in all sorts of ways. The Pirates are set with two solid relievers in Hudson and Watson as their backend guys. Be creative with Rivero and Nicasio. Hurdle didn't use Watson in the ninth, choosing to go with Rivero instead. Was it because he was following Showalter's manager's handbook or was he using his best reliever? Either way, I was indifferent. That is a good problem to have.

8.) There have been very few offensive positives from the Pirates performance in Fenway thus far, but Francisco Cervelli, yep Cervelli, has been a bright spot. Cervelli sported about as empty a .377 OBP as you could possibly have last year. He slugged .322 and had an ISO of .058. Of players with 300 plate appearances, he was dead last in ISO. Hard to know how much of that was a result of injury, but so far this year, so good.
9.) There was lots of commentary about the Pirates defensive shifting after their Opening Day loss. Travis Sawchik had an excellent piece at Fangraphs called The Embattled Shift discussing the issue. Take note last night. The Pirates shifted against Chris Young, a righthanded batter, moving Jordy Mercer over into the hole to open the 10th inning. When Young pulled a Tony Watson fastball into the hole, off-the-bat I assumed it was a hit because I had yet to see the defensive alignment. When the camera changed, there was Jordy deep in the hole making a relatively routine play for the first out. Nobody, and I mean nobody, mentioned this. Well, that's not completely true:
Jackie Bradley, Jr followed with a single and after a Sandoval strikeout, Leon singled. Do with that what you will.

10.) Tony Watson's tenth inning may not look pretty in the boxscore, but it was better than advertised.
He gave up a bloop single and then got badly squeezed by the umpire and ended up walking Pedroia. With the bases loaded and game on the line he got Andrew Benintendi on a broken bat, soft grounder to second.

11.) Starling Marte got a 2-out single in the 11th.
12.) The Pirates lost the game in the 12th on another 3-run homer, this time by Sandy Leon off of Antonio Bastardo. First I have no idea why Hurdle didn't use Juan Nicasio for more than one inning. Earlier I talked about the versatility and flexibility afforded by having Rivero and Nicasio in the pen. In the 11th Nicasio threw 13 pitches and struck out two of the three batters he faced.
I don't know if the Pirates were ever going to score, but trotting Nicasio out there for the 12th seemed like a no-brainer. Didn't happen. Bastardo got the first out, but then walked Chris Young. With a 2-2 pitch coming Bastardo caught Young running on his pickoff move to first. Phil Gosselin had replaced Josh Bell at first.
Gosselin's inexperience at the position showed. Rather than step forward and toward second to catch the throw earlier and give himself a better angle, as a righty, to throw to second, he waited at the bag. When he got the ball he made a terrible throw to second and Bradley was safe. Sandoval walked three pitches later and Leon took Bastardo's second pitch deep into the Boston night, over the Green Monster, to end it.

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