Pittsburgh Pirates: Observations from Sunday's 19-Inning Victory
The victory puts the Pirates two games ahead of the Cardinals, who many believe to be their biggest competition for a playoff berth, in the National League wild-card race. It is a significant win for the Bucs, who have managed to keep the Cardinals at bay for much of the season and would have fallen into a tie with the Redbirds with a defeat.
There is also some symbolic significance to a Pittsburgh win, as Pirate fans were undoubtedly remembering the Jerry Meals game throughout extra innings today. Given how the 2011 season collapsed following Meals' infamous blown call, Pittsburgh fans can only hope this victory will spur their team to greater heights.
This game had its fair share of heroes, along with a few moments that should stick in Clint Hurdle's mind going forward. The Pirates have an interesting week ahead as they look to recover from Sunday's marathon, and there is much to be learned from the victory.
Andrew McCutchen Is Still the MVP
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Andrew McCutchen has not looked his best recently, cooling off somewhat after a scorching June and July that saw him dominate the National League MVP conversation. Given the Pirates' recent slump and key stretch of upcoming games, some had been calling for the center fielder to step up his level of play.
Asked and answered. McCutchen did not necessarily have a big offensive night (few players did), but he had two important hits in this game. Cutch's infield single in the sixth inning tied the game, and his liner to right-center in the 19th inning just about put the game out of reach for the Cardinals.
McCutchen may have looked mortal during the past two weeks, but he remains by far the most valuable player in the National League.
Travis Snider Leaves the Game
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After hitting a pop-up in the 14th inning, Travis Snider was pulled from the game by Clint Hurdle. While at first all that was clear was that Snider had failed to run to first base, reports have emerged that Snider suffered a groin injury during the play.
If Snider were to miss an extended period of time, this would be a big setback for the Pirates. Snider has been very productive since the Bucs acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline, and he is currently one of the team's most valuable hitters.
With Starling Marte already on the disabled list with a right oblique strain, the Pittsburgh outfield is once again thin. Gaby Sanchez may see increased playing time, with Garrett Jones returning to his right-field position for the time being.
Jose Tabata Returns to the Pirates
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Meanwhile, it appears that the Pirates will turn to Jose Tabata to fill the void left by Starling Marte's absence. Tabata played left field and bat leadoff today, much as he had before his demotion to Indianapolis.
Tabata had a relatively normal game by his standards, with a couple well-hit singles sandwiched around two base-running mistakes. He is not a permanent solution, but the fact that the Bucs can call up this good of an injury replacement is a testament to the team's outfield depth.
Though Tabata remains a part of the Pirates' future, he will not be expected to contribute as anything more than a fourth outfielder should Marte and Snider regain their health.
James McDonald Caps His Excellent Weekend
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Once again, James McDonald proved that he can contribute to a baseball team in more ways than one. Sunday's game was not the first time that McDonald helped the Pirates win a game without pitching, but it may have been the most significant.
It was McDonald who initially scored the go-ahead run in the 17th inning, though the Pirates did not win the game until the 19th. McDonald has also served as a pinch-runner for the Bucs this season, and he's generally a pretty capable hitter.
His single and run scored capped off a nice weekend of redemption for McDonald, who was the winning starter in Friday's pitchers' duel. McDonald has had a very difficult month, and it will mean a lot for the Pirates' playoff chances if he can get rolling again.
The Pirates Use Joel Hanrahan Correctly
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When Clint Hurdle summoned Joel Hanrahan to pitch the 14th inning, he knew there was no save to be had. Going to Hanrahan so "early" was unusual for the Pittsburgh manager, who is pretty rigid in his bullpen usage and tends to save his closer for save situations.
Yet this was the absolute perfect time to use Hanrahan. The Pittsburgh closer faced the meat of the Cardinals' order, and while he did not have an easy inning, he was able to keep the Pirates' hopes for victory alive.
Hanrahan is getting closer to regaining his 2011 form, and he remains a weapon for the Pirates down the stretch. If Clint Hurdle starts using him correctly, as he did Sunday, Hanrahan will become an even more valuable pitcher for the Bucs.
Wandy Rodriguez Gets His First Win as a Pirate
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Wandy Rodriguez has not had a particularly successful start to his Pittsburgh career, yet on Sunday he reminded Pirate fans why their team parted with three prospects to acquire the veteran pitcher.
Despite being originally slated to start Monday's game against the Padres, Rodriguez pitched the final two innings of Sunday's game to pick up his first win as a Pirate. Rodriguez was efficient and effective, striking out three batters and allowing only two baserunners.
Given Rodriguez's track record, a few poor starts did not represent a true cause for concern over the newest Pittsburgh starting pitcher. Rodriguez is no All-Star, but as he reminded the Pirate fans Sunday, he remains a useful member of any major league rotation.
The Pirates May Need to Tap Their Pitching Depth
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The 19-inning game leaves the Pittsburgh pitching staff in somewhat of a bind, as the Bucs currently do not have a starter for Monday's game against the Padres and have several weary arms in the bullpen.
Luckily, the team has ample solutions in Triple-A. Left-hander Justin Wilson, who has been lights out recently, is available to pitch tomorrow and would serve as an above-average spot starter at this point in his development (Note: Pirates Prospects has an excellent breakdown of which Indianapolis pitchers would be available Monday. Unfortunately, I am currently having trouble linking to it).
The Pirates are even better suited to supplement their bullpen, as Bryan Morris has been deserving of a call-up since the Bucs traded Brad Lincoln three weeks ago. The current state of the bullpen represents an ideal time to promote Morris, and the Pirates can either use Jordy Mercer's paternity leave to facilitate the move or demote Jared Hughes, who has been used heavily recently.