Really, there are only two points that I’d like to make after this game.
The first is this: It’s a problem when the Pirates score a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 2-1 lead and your first thought is, “Goddammit, this means Grilli will come in to close out the game and Braun’s due up second and will definitely be homering to either tie or win the game.” I do my best to shrug off mistakes that can be attributed to the cookie-cutter managing that happens in Major League Baseball because they’re more or less unavoidable, but Grilli was obviously the third best option to pitch the ninth inning today behind Cole (91 pitches through eight mostly dominant innings and had held Braun in check) and Mark Melancon. He was out there anyway, and he did what literally everyone in the ballpark (except Clint Hurdle, I guess, though I suspect that he had the same sinking feeling in his stomach that I did in the ninth with Braun at the plate) expected him to do. Honestly, it’s just frustrating that everything was allowed to happen the way that it did.
The second is this: it’s fine to say that it’s early, that the Pirates are capable of playing better baseball, and that they’ll snap out of this and be back in the thick of things soon. I don’t necessarily disagree with that; I think this is a pretty talented Pirate team that’s probably going to get better as the year goes along. The Pirates are headed into a dangerous spot now, though, where they’ve lost eight of their last ten games, they’re six games out of first place, and I don’t see a truly bad team on their schedule until they play the Mets at the end of May. If they can’t get their act together quickly and start playing better baseball, we’re not all that far away from saying things like, “The Pirates have to win 60% of their games from here on out just to get 90 wins and have an outside shot at the second wild card.” I’m honestly not trying to sound alarmist here; I’m just saying that you have to say, “Early season games count” when the team is playing unexpectedly poorly in the same way that you do when they’re playing unexpectedly well in the early season. The Pirates have dug themselves a hole and while it’s too early to worry too much about it, that’s not going to be the case for much longer.
Bonus third opinion: it’s easy to say that Gerrit Cole should’ve just kept to himself after Carlos Gomez flipped his bat and admired a fly ball off of the top of the center field fence that turned into a triple. Cole made a bad pitch and Gomez hammered it and his preening really only served to cost himself and inside the park homer. I have two problems with laying the general basis of the blame on Cole’s temper, though. That sort of fire from Cole is exactly what makes him such an intriguing young pitcher; Cole’s not only an incredibly talented guy, he’s also fully invested in proving to anyone watching exactly how talented he is. His career is young, but it’s easy to see the way he thrives on pitching in tough spots (today was a great example; he’s been lackluster lately, the Pirates needed a big start, and Cole absolutely came out firing with his A-game today, which should’ve been enough to win) and that sort of competitiveness is what leads to situations like we saw at third base today. The whole basis of the problem is that Gomez is obviously out to show people up on the field, and that became apparent when he decided to respond to Cole’s jawing at him by going completely berserk on him. Cole obviously shouldn’t have started with him, but it’s awfully hard to lay the all or most of blame on him when Gomez so completely lost his head.