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Lack of offense dooms Pirates again

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 11:12 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker strikes out in the seventh inning against the Cardinals on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Wednesday was another silent night for the Pirates' bats. The consequence is an often-raucous PNC Park in the summer of 2013 is resigned to become a quiet place until April.

From wire to wire in the Pirates' first winning season and playoff appearance since 1992, their inability to generate offense was the weak link. And it was a lack of offense responsible for their elimination from the playoffs at Busch Stadium.

A game after nearly being no-hit by rookie Michael Wacha, the Pirates were quieted 6-1 in a Game 5 loss to the Cardinals and their ace Adam Wainwright in the NLDS. Wainwright allowed one run and eight hits in a complete-game effort. In each of their three losses in the series, the Pirates generated a single run.

Game 5 was a nightmare matchup for the Pirates.

The Pirates entered as the third-worst curveball hitting team in baseball, according to the scouting service Baseball Info Solutions, and Wainwright possessed the second-most effective curveball in the National League.

The Pirates did a better job laying off out-of-zone curveballs against Wainwright on Wednesday than they had in their Game 1 loss when the right-hander threw 29 curveballs and the Pirates did not generate a hit or walk against the pitch and swung and missed at it nine times.

The Pirates' process was better in Game 5, but the results were similar.

“The at bats were better, the approach got better,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “But he kept making pitches.”

Early on, Wainwright did not have the same curveball command he had in the series opener. Nine of his first 17 curves were balls. But the Pirates could not capitalize on Wainwright's early shaky command. Pedro Alvarez lined a hanging curveball to Matt Carpenter resulting in a double play in the second inning. And as the game went, Wainwright's command sharpened.

“When he's attacking the zone you can't really go up there trying to work a count,” Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes said.

To improve their offense, the Pirates thought they had found a middle-of-the-order thumper in Justin Morneau for a bargain price when they sent Alex Presley and Duke Welker to the Twins on Aug. 31. But Morneau, who was installed as the Pirates' cleanup hitter, did not homer as a Pirate and is now a free agent.

“The biggest thing is working in front, working ahead,” Morneau said. “(Wacha and Wainwright) were phenomenal working ahead.”

Pirates starter Gerrit Cole had no margin for error.

Cole allowed one hit on his previous 232 off-speed pitches, but he left a hanging curveball over the plate to David Freese in the second inning. Freese crushed the pitch for a two-run homer to give Cardinals a 2-0 lead, the only support needed on another silent night for the Pirates' bats.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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