Cardinals ride another wave of home runs to beat Pirates, sweep series
Since the Pittsburgh Pirates fooled everyone and looked like playoff contenders at the All-Star break, problems, question marks and a string of defeats have emerged.
The losing streak reached five in a row (11 of 13) on Thursday after a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. A nice afternoon crowd of 24,534 watched the Pirates (46-56) drop 10 games below .500, the worst record of the season.
The bats have disappeared at crucial moments, such as in the ninth inning when Jose Osuna, representing the potential tying run, grounded into a game-ending double play. In three of the past five games, they have managed only six, six and seven hits. The seven occurred Thursday and came with five hitless innings.
The starting pitching has not been good enough — or even good. Losing pitching Joe Musgrove (7-9) confessed his sins, blaming an erratic slider after giving up three homers and six runs in five innings.
But he wasn’t alone. The Cardinals homered 12 times while sweeping all four games of the series. Four Pirates starters allowed nine homers among 26 hits, 20 runs (15 earned) while lasting a total of 172/3 innings (less than two games).
“Our pitching has let the game get too far out of hand and out of control to be able to stick in games,” Musgrove said. “We’ve had spurts of good pitching. Our bullpen was really sharp (Thursday).
“But, me, being the starter allowing that much damage early in the game, putting us in that big of hole makes it hard for us to stay in games.”
Still, there were no outward displays of panic or despair among players as they quietly packed for the trip to New York to play a three-game series with the Mets.
Josh Bell talked about “hunting the good” and predicted rookie Dario Agrazal will put up zeros “left and right” Friday.
Musgrove said the Pirates’ energy “seems a little bit better on the road.” Even though the record (23-29, as opposed to 23-27 at PNC Park) doesn’t show it.
“Get out of the environment a little bit, switch things up,” he said after the Pirates lost six of seven games on the homestand.
Manager Clint Hurdle remained hopeful, too.
“We haven’t connected the dots. We haven’t been able to get our hitting and our pitching and our defense all synced up,” he said.
“We also at the same time probably have five other games that we’ve lost that have been either a well-placed out or a hit away from switching scores. There is a very fine line between winning and losing up here. That’s what puts the emphasis on winning and losing and not overlooking things that aren’t getting done.”
Hurdle was asked if change is afoot, but he had no appetite for sharing those thoughts with reporters.
“Those will be conversations I’ll have with these guys, and they’ll be the first ones to know whenever we do anything,” he said.
There is reason to look in the mirror for help, he said.
“We have to stay in a position where you’re being real and honestly self-evaluate. Knowing dots can be connected,” he said. “Whether you do move personnel around, that may ignite something, but this is also a lineup you (reporters) were writing a whole different narrative about before the All-Star break: hitting home runs and driving in runs.
“We have to find our way back there.”
With the trade deadline approaching and the Pirates in last place in the National League Central, the answers, if there are any, will need to emerge from only one source:
The Pirates’ clubhouse. Not anyone else’s.
There is no pennant race or wild-card chase for the Pirates, so management won’t feel the need to fish externally for help at the expense of trading away prospects who can help in the future.
“We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole here,” Musgrove said, “made it a little tougher decision for them to add to this team at this point.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .