Game 159: Pirates vs. Cubs

PITTSBURGH — We have reached the end of the line at PNC Park, the Pirates’ final home game until the Braves come to town on April 7, 2017.

It has been an unusual season for the Pirates at home. They’ve gone 38-42 here this year. Last season, they were 53-28. The year before, 51-30, same as 2013. Even in 2012, they were 45-36 at home. So this will be their first losing season at PNC Park since 2011, when they finished 36-45.

The biggest difference might be their pitching, which has been their biggest challenge overall in a season full of them. It’s also their biggest issue heading into the offseason, which is what makes the man on the mound tonight — Ivan Nova — such an intriguing figure as he takes the hill for the final time this season.

Will the Pirates pay to keep Nova on board? Should they? Who else is out there? If the Pirates want at least one veteran starter in next year’s rotation, as Clint Hurdle hinted to a small gathering of reporters in his office before Wednesday’s game, then perhaps Nova is their best bet.

Hurdle committed to Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon being in next year’s rotation, and it sounds like Chad Kuhl has a leg up on a back-end job. If the Pirates acquire a qualified No. 3 starter — something they lacked this year — they would only have to fill one spot with someone out of the Tyler Glasnow/Steven Brault/Trevor Williams/Drew Hutchison pool.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…
-Before Opening Day, the Pirates will play a pair of exhibition games in Montreal. Should be a neat couple days. (One of which is the birthday of yours truly!)
-Over the next few days, you’ll see a couple banged-up Pirates get some much-needed rest and a few more opportunities for younger players.
-The Pirates beat up on Jake Arrieta and Jameson Taillon pitched a gem in an all-too-infrequent feel-good night at PNC Park.
-John Jaso hit for the first cycle in the history of PNC Park. 

ABOUT TODAY’S GAME…
-Ballpark: PNC Park
-First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET
-TV/Radio: ROOT Sports Pittsburgh/93.7 The Fan
-Gameday link: Here
-Game preview: Here

PIRATES (78-80)
1) Jordy Mercer, SS
2) Josh Bell, RF
3) Andrew McCutchen, CF
4) Jung Ho Kang, 3B
5) Sean Rodriguez, LF
6) David Freese, 1B
7) Alen Hanson, 2B
8) Eric Fryer, C
9) Ivan Nova, RHP

CUBS (101-57)
1) Tommy La Stella, 3B
2) Albert Almora Jr., CF
3) Addison Russell, SS
4) Willson Contreras, LF
5) Javier Baez, 1B
6) Matt Szczur, RF
7) Tim Federowicz, C
8) Munenori Kawasaki, 2B
9) Rob Zastryzny, LHP (it’s a bullpen game for the Cubs)

Game 158: Pirates vs. Cubs

PITTSBURGH – Tonight, the Pirates will play their first “meaningless” game since 2012. They have been officially, mathematically eliminated from the postseason race, their slim odds completely extinguished. The Cubs are playing for October, but they have already clinched everything they need to clinch.

But, of course, the game is never entirely without meaning. Jameson Taillon will finish up what has been an encouraging rookie season, a silver lining amid the many disappointing performances that led to this 77-80 record with five games remaining. It will be interesting to see how Clint Hurdle manages these games, now fully free to open auditions for next season if he so chooses. We’ll have more on that up on the site later.

And in two days, the Pirates will have a chance to directly impact the NL Wild Card race, as they’ll end the season with three games in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are locked in a tight, three-team race.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…
-Zach Phillips’ 2017 bullpen audition has gone well — and in big spots
-The game recap, the Cubs’ 101st win, the Pirates’ 80th loss and an “unacceptable start”
Officially eliminated, Pirates can look forward to final five games and ’17

ABOUT TODAY’S GAME…
Ballpark: PNC Park
First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: ROOT Sports Pittsburgh/93.7 The Fan
Gameday link: Here
Game preview: Here

PIRATES (77-80)
1) Adam Frazier, 2B
2) Josh Bell, RF
3) Andrew McCutchen, CF
4) Matt Joyce, LF
5) Sean Rodriguez, SS
6) John Jaso, 1B
7) David Freese, 3B
8) Eric Fryer, C
9) Jameson Taillon, RHP

CUBS (101-56)
1) Dexter Fowler, CF
2) Kris Bryant, 3B
3) Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4) Ben Zobrist, 2B
5) Jason Heyward, RF
6) Addison Russell, SS
7) Chris Coghlan, LF
8) Miguel Montero, C
9) Jake Arrieta, RHP

 

Game 157: Pirates vs. Cubs

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs locked up a triple-digit win total and homefield advantage through the NLCS. They’re already prepping players for the NLDS, working off scripts like the last six games are some sort of postseason dress rehearsal.

The Pirates’ postseason odds officially reached 0.0 percent today, according to FanGraphs. Their elimination number is two, so they could be playing their last “meaningful” game of the season tonight if they lose and the Giants win.

Aside from personal accomplishments and contractual obligations, what’s left to play for? How about a .500 record? Maybe a winning season? Even in this disappointing year, a non-losing record would at least keep a streak alive in Pittsburgh.

I asked Andrew McCutchen about that last night, after a brutal 12-2 loss to the Cubs. The Pirates would have to go 4-2 these last six games to break even, 5-1 to finish with 82 wins.

“What’s important is winning, so yeah. I guess if you win, you’re going to be .500 or whatever it is, over it. The important thing is winning,” McCutchen said. “In order to finish .500, you’ve got to win. We don’t want to end by losing like we did tonight. That’s not something that sticks to me. I’m not big on letting a game like this get in the way of tomorrow. You’ve got to pick up and move forward.

“I’ve been here. I’ve lost 100 games. I know how it feels. It’s disheartening. It’s horrible. It’s any bad word you can think of, it is. We’ve come a long way from those times. Even though we’re not where we want to be right now, we’ve backtracked from the past few years, we’re still in good shape to where we can finish over .500. We have to look at it like that, look at it as a whole. We’re a lot better team than when I first got here, that’s for sure. It’s not like we’re playing to not lose 100 games. I was a part of that. ‘Let’s not lose 100.’ … We’re a lot better than that.”

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…
After trading for a middle infielder, we looked at their 2017 utility options
Jung Ho Kang has put together a better season than expected, which bodes well
The game recap. The Cubs won their 100th game like most of their first 99.
Andrew McCutchen chimes in on the state of Pirates-Cubs, Pittsburgh’s core and what it will take to close the gap

ABOUT TODAY’S GAME…
Ballpark: PNC Park
First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET
TV/radio: ROOT Sports Pittsburgh/93.7 The Fan
Gameday link: Here
Game preview: Here

PIRATES (77-79)
1) John Jaso, 1B
2) Gregory Polanco, LF
3) Andrew McCutchen, CF
4) Jung Ho Kang, 3B
5) Matt Joyce, RF
6) Sean Rodriguez, 2B
7) Francisco Cervelli, C
8) Jordy Mercer, SS
9) Ryan Vogelsong, RHP

CUBS (100-56)
1) Dexter Fowler, CF
2) Chris Coghlan, RF
3) Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4) Ben Zobrist, LF
5) Miguel Montero, C
6) Tommy La Stella, 3B
7) Javier Baez, SS
8) Munenori Kawasaki, 2B
9) John Lackey, RHP

Game 154: Pirates vs. Nationals

PITTSBURGH — With nine games to go, the Pirates are still mathematically alive in the Wild Card race even as their injuries pile up and they continue to spin circles around the .500 mark.

Tonight, they’ll try again to keep the Nationals from clinching the NL East at PNC Park. Like last night, it would take a Nats win and a Mets loss to make it happen.

Go take a look at the standings and playoff odds, courtesy of our friends at FanGraphs…

It would take some kind of collapse by the Giants — and basically a win-out finish by the Pirates — but it’s still in the “improbable but not impossible” realm that GM Neal Huntington described last Sunday. For now, anyway. Their elimination number remains at six.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…
-Amid the news that his agents are talking to the Pirates about an extension, Ivan Nova told me why he would like to remain in Pittsburgh. Hard to imagine Nova, two starts away from free agency, won’t at least test the open market. I will point out that while Nova’s reported asking price — five years, $70 million — seems high, it’s not at all outrageous this early in the process, especially when Mike Leake got five years and $80 million in a more robust free-agent market last winter. Nova has earned the right to set his price.
-Tons of tidbits in yesterday’s notebook.
-Gregory Polanco ran into the wall and left the game in the first inning.
-Jamal Collier writes about Mark Melancon’s “very cool” return to Pittsburgh.
-The game recap: Jacob Stallings delivers an unlikely walk-off winner. Take a second to think about everything that had to happen the last couple months to put him in that situation: He’s probably not even on the roster if not for Stewart’s surgery and Elias Diaz’s season-ending procedure. He was DFA’d earlier this season but stayed with the organization. Clint Hurdle used every other available hitter — not counting the injured Starling Marte — and the game presented the only situation where Stallings would have hit: bases loaded, two outs, pitcher’s spot due up. Outstanding moment for Stallings.

ABOUT TODAY’S GAME…
-Ballpark: PNC Park
-First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET
-TV/Radio: ROOT Sports Pittsburgh/93.7 The Fan
-Gameday link: Here
-Preview: Here

PIRATES (77-76)
1) Adam Frazier, 2B
2) Josh Bell, RF
3) Andrew McCutchen, CF
4) Jung Ho Kang, 3B
5) John Jaso, 1B
6) Sean Rodriguez, SS
7) Matt Joyce, LF
8) Francisco Cervelli, C
9) Ivan Nova, RHP

Note that Gregory Polanco (bruised face) and Starling Marte (lower back tightness) are still out, as is shortstop Jordy Mercer (forearm discomfort).

NATIONALS (89-64)
1) Trea Turner, CF
2) Jayson Werth, LF
3) Bryce Harper, RF
4) Anthony Rendon, 3B
5) Wilson Ramos, C
6) Stephen Drew, 2B
7) Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
8) Danny Espinosa, SS
9) Joe Ross, RHP

Game 153: Pirates vs. Nationals

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates will begin their final homestand of the season tonight with the first of three games against the Nationals.

The Nats have a chance to clinch the NL East tonight if they win and the Mets lose. The Pirates, meanwhile, have fallen 4 1/2 games out of the three-team NL Wild Card race with 10 left to play. Not just any 10 games, of course — 10 against the Nats, Cubs and Cardinals, three of the NL’s best. The Pirates are 36-38 at PNC Park this season, with a 2-9 mark in their last 11 home games and a 3-13 record in their last 16.

Along with Washington’s potential champagne celebration and Pittsburgh’s fading glimmer of postseason hope, two other storylines to watch: the return of closer Mark Melancon and the matchup between the first and second overall picks in the 2010 Draft: Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon. They’ve faced each other in the Minors, but never in the Majors.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…
-The game story following last night’s loss at Miller Park
-Starling Marte’s return was brief as he left with lower back tightness
-Francisco Cervelli hit his first homer of the season, and they celebrated accordingly
-The Pirates traded for Phil Coke, who will be here today

ABOUT TODAY’S GAME
Ballpark: PNC Park
First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: ROOT Sports Pittsburgh/93.7 The Fan
Gameday link: Here
Preview: Here

PIRATES (76-76)
1) Adam Frazier, 2B
2) Francisco Cervelli, C
3) Andrew McCutchen, CF
4) Jung Ho Kang, 3B
5) Sean Rodriguez, SS
6) Gregory Polanco, LF
7) David Freese, 1B
8) Josh Bell, RF
9) Jameson Taillon, RHP

NATIONALS (89-63)
1) Trea Turner, CF
2) Jayson Werth, LF
3) Bryce Harper, RF
4) Anthony Rendon, 3B
5) Wilson Ramos, C
6) Stephen Drew, 2B
7) Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
8) Danny Espinosa, SS
9) Gio Gonzalez, LHP

 

 

Game 142 lineups: Pirates at Phillies

PHILADELPHIA — Coming off a disastrous homestand, the Pirates will try to stay afloat in the postseason picture, and work their way back toward .500, as they begin an 11-game road trip tonight at Citizens Bank Park.

All three of the Pirates’ opponents on this trip — the Phillies, Reds and Brewers — are below .500 and rebuilding, so you’d think it’s their last chance to salvage this season before the Cubs and Nationals come to town leading up to the season finale in St. Louis. On top of all that, the Pirates have won 13 of their last 17 meetings with the Phillies.

Gerrit Cole will start tonight, his first appearance since Aug. 24. Coming off the disabled list without a Minor League rehab start, Cole will be on some sort of pitch count — but Clint Hurdle wouldn’t divulge any specifics about it.

I understand there’s a football game tonight that may have some significance in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates will play on. Here’s a look at tonight’s lineups…

PIRATES (69-72)
Adam Frazier, LF
Josh Bell, 1B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Gregory Polanco, RF
Jung Ho Kang, 3B
Francisco Cervelli, C
Sean Rodriguez, 2B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Gerrit Cole, RHP

PHILLIES (63-80)
Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Roman Quinn, RF
Maikel Franco, 3B
Ryan Howard, 1B
Cameron Rupp, C
Freddy Galvis, SS
Odubel Herrera, CF
Cody Asche, LF
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP

Game 137 lineups: Pirates vs. Cardinals

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates will try once again to end their losing streak, which reached eight games in devastating fashion last night. The good news, if you’re looking for it: Jameson Taillon is on the mound tonight.

Here are the lineups for a Clemente Day matchup at PNC Park. Francisco Cervelli has returned from his left thumb injury, but Starling Marte is still sidelined after suffering back spasms before yesterday’s game.

PIRATES (67-69)
Josh Harrison, 2B
David Freese, 1B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Gregory Polanco, LF
Jung Ho Kang, 3B
Matt Joyce, RF
Francisco Cervelli, C
Jordy Mercer, SS
Jameson Taillon, RHP

CARDINALS (73-64)
Matt Carpenter, 2B
Stephen Piscotty, RF
Matt Adams, 1B
Yadier Molina, C
Brandon Moss, LF
Randal Grichuk, CF
Jhonny Peralta, 3B
Greg Garcia, SS
Mike Leake, RHP

Game 136 lineups: Pirates vs. Cardinals

PITTSBURGH — Busy day in the Pirates clubhouse, which got even more crowded following another round of call-ups: Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison, Trevor Williams and Pedro Florimon.

Florimon, like Alen Hanson, is a speed-and-defense option. The other three will start off in the bullpen, though I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one of them gets a start at some point down the stretch. The Pirates are monitoring Jameson Taillon’s innings, and Clint Hurdle mentioned “fatigue” when discussing Chad Kuhl’s start yesterday.

Trying to snap a seven-game losing streak that has all but bumped them out of the Wild Card picture, the Pirates hit the field early this afternoon, going through defensive drills before batting practice.

Was there a meeting or anything done to rally the team out of this rut?

“I would not tell you if we did,” Hurdle said, smiling. “There’s two kinds of meetings that are great in this game: ones that you don’t hear about, and the other’s where they vote on [postseason] shares. Those are the best meetings.”

Here are tonight’s lineups. Note that Francisco Cervelli (left thumb) said he’s feeling “better,” and that the injury is unrelated to the fractured hamate bone that required surgery in June. He was bruised trying to block a ball behind the plate in yesterday’s game.

PIRATES (67-68)
Josh Harrison, 2B
John Jaso, 1B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Gregory Polanco, LF
Jung Ho Kang, 3B
Matt Joyce, RF
Jordy Mercer, SS
Chris Stewart, C
Ryan Vogelsong, RHP

CARDINALS (72-64)
Kolten Wong, 2B
Jedd Gyorko, SS
Brandon Moss, RF
Matt Adams, 1B
Yadier Molina, C
Randal Grichuk, CF
Jhonny Peralta, 3B
Jeremy Hazelbaker, LF
Luke Weaver, RHP

Game 135 lineups

PITTSBURGH — You know it’s a big series when both Andrew McCutchen and Bill, the mild-mannered media parking lot attendant at PNC Park, say so. McCutchen did so after yesterday’s 10-0 loss to the Brewers, shortly after Clint Hurdle called the Pirates’ schedule a blessing: They get to play the team they’re chasing.

Here’s where the Pirates stand, having lost six in a row. They are even at .500, 67-67. They are 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot, with the Mets having pulled 2 1/2 games ahead of the Bucs.

According to these projections, the Pirates have an 8.3 percent chance to sneak into the Wild Card Game. Opinions about those projections appear to vary wildly, based on the replies I got to this tweet…

“We all need to hit the reset, refresh button and go on,” Hurdle said. “Lamenting about the past isn’t going to do anybody any good.”

And so they will look forward, beginning a critical three-game series against the Cardinals this Labor Day afternoon along the Allegheny River. Here are the lineups

PIRATES (67-67)
Josh Harrison, 2B
John Jaso, 1B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Gregory Polanco, RF
Starling Marte, LF
David Freese, 3B
Francisco Cervelli, C
Jordy Mercer, SS
Chad Kuhl, RHP

CARDINALS (71-64)
Matt Carpenter, 3B
Jedd Gyorko, SS
Stephen Piscotty, RF
Matt Adams, 1B
Yadier Molina, C
Randal Grichuk, CF
Jeremy Hazelbaker, LF
Kolten Wong, 2B
Adam Wainwright, RHP

Game 133 lineups: Pirates vs. Brewers

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates will try to snap their four-game losing streak, and thus avoid matching their worst losing skid of the season, tonight against the Brewers at PNC Park.

If you can turn your eyes away from college football from a moment, here are the lineups…

PIRATES (67-65)
Josh Harrison, 2B
Josh Bell, 1B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Gregory Polanco, RF
Starling Marte, LF
David Freese, 3B
Francisco Cervelli, C
Jordy Mercer, SS
Ivan Nova, RHP

BREWERS (58-76)
Keon Broxton, CF
Scooter Gennett, 2B
Ryan Braun, LF
Hernan Perez, 3B
Chris Carter, 1B
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, RF
Orlando Arcia, SS
Martin Maldonado, C
Jimmy Nelson, RHP

About last night

  • The Pirates called up five players in their first round of September roster additions.
  • Several players and coaches did a really cool thing, shaving their heads as part of MLB’s league-wide Childhood Cancer Awareness Day.
  • The Pirates faced seven Brewers pitchers, held their lineup to three hits and still lost, done in by untimely hitting and baserunning mistakes.
  • Jameson Taillon, at least, looked ready for his first September stretch run.

Pregame notes

  • Andrew McCutchen somewhat quietly had three hits last night. Of course, they all came with two outs and nobody on base, so they went to waste. You may recall that the Pirates planned to bat him second this season almost exclusively to avoid those opportunities. But he struggled, moved back down to third and hasn’t moved back since. Regardless, McCutchen has hit .299/.404/.443 with 17 walks and 17 strikeouts since his three-day mental break in Atlanta at the beginning of August.
  • The Pirates have not lost a game started by Ivan Nova (4-0, 2.87 ERA) since he came over at the Trade Deadline. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, over the last 75 seasons, the only pitcher to go 4-0 or 5-0 in his first five games with the Pirates was Dave LaPoint, who went 4-0 in 1988.
  • The Pirates’ last win, in fact, came with Nova on the mound in Milwaukee.
  • Josh Bell is hitless in his last 13 at-bats. Gregory Polanco is in an 0-for-7 skid. The Pirates’ longest hitting streak, all of four games, belongs to Jordy Mercer.
  • Check Pirates.com before the game for notes on Gerrit Cole’s 30-pitch bullpen session, Francisco Cervelli’s playing time and a reunion that explains Pittsburgh’s wardrobe tonight.
  • Mississippi State’s own Adam Frazier was the target of many good-natured jokes in the clubhouse this afternoon. His Bulldogs, of course, were the victim of the college football season’s first big upset, losing 21-20 to South Alabama. David Freese, who played at South Alabama, received plenty of congratulations — especially when Frazier was around. (If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check the Pirates roster for UMass connections, just in case the Gators’ season opener goes south tonight…)