West brings out best in Pirates' bats
SAN FRANCISCO — The West Coast is typically not where clubs find their offensive rhythm.
The large dimensions of the parks, coupled with the heavy, marine layer air of the coast, often create run-depressing environments.
AT&T Park in San Francisco and Petco Park in San Diego are the two most difficult ballparks to score runs in this season according to ESPN's Park Factors, which compares the rate of statistics at the home park to the rate on the road.
But in the first four games of their West Coast swing through San Diego and San Francisco, the Pirates produced 22 runs, including a 10-5 win over the Giants on Thursday when they roughed up Matt Cain.
It marks their best four-game output since scoring 30 runs in a four-game stretch in late June (21-25) also along the West Coast, at the Angels and Mariners.
So what is it about the worst offensive environments in baseball that are bringing the best out of the Pirates' lineup?
Manager Clint Hurdle said his club is better using the whole field, perhaps an approach taken more seriously — consciously or subconsciously — in places where it's difficult to hit a home run.
“It's something we've been working on,” Hurdle said of an all-fields approach. “Offensively, all our hits have been to the big part of the field.”
It's an approach the club has tried to have third baseman Pedro Alvarez buy into throughout his career. Alvarez has been particularly effective at lining drives into the gaps on the trip.
He tripled and enjoyed a Little League-style homer — a single and three-base error — in San Diego, and he hit two ground-rule doubles Thursday in San Francisco.
The second double scored two runs in the Pirates' seven-run fifth, tying their best inning of the season. With the shot that one-bounced over the right-center field wall at AT&T Park, Alvarez tied a career high with 85 RBI — with 35 games to play in the season.
Alvarez doesn't think the team has altered its approach on the road.
“I think we keep the same approach no matter where we're at,” he said. “We try to keep a gap-to-gap approach in every ballpark we play in.
“I think we've had the same approach all year. We're going to have our days where we do really well and days where we don't.”
The team would like nothing more than for Garrett Jones' third-inning homer into McCovey Cove to mark the beginning of a turnaround for the struggling slugger who entered Thursday batting just .133 in August and .205 in the second half of the season.
Ironically, Jones said a day before the blast that he had become too pull-oriented and was working on better using the whole field. Jones said he was not trying to pull the pitch he homered on Thursday night.
In franchise history, the Pirates have homered into a natural body of water three times. Jones has done it twice season, also homering into the Allegheny River.
“That was just being on time,” Jones said. “Being on time for his best fastball, staying real short on a 3-2 count. … It was just a reaction.”