Look, I don’t know what to say other than that this game was beyond exasperating. The Pirates scored two runs in the top of the sixth, but after they did that they still managed to score zero runs after loading the bases with nobody out. The umpires didn’t help, as Ike Davis took a pitch up around his neck with a full-count and was called out on strikes to end the inning, but no runs with the bases loaded and no one out is no runs with the bases loaded and no one out and that’s not really acceptable under any circumstances.
Pretty much immediately after the Pirates took that 2-0 lead, Edinson Volquez and the defense both came apart at the seams. Volquez got the first two outs in the bottom of the sixth (to run his streak to 12 in a row), and then gave up a run of hard-hit balls to give the Nats their first run. I thought Volquez was pretty much done in the sixth, but apparently both Justin Wilson and Tony Watson were unavailable today, so Volquez went out there to start the seventh inning. That went poorly; after getting one out to start the inning, Volquez hit Michael Taylor and gave up two singles to load the bases. Jared Hughes came in and got Asdrubal Cabrera to hit a ground ball to Ike Davis that should’ve been an easy force at the plate, but Davis promptly threw the ball away and let two runs score. Hughes got another ground ball to Pedro Alvarez and when Denard Span broke for home on contact, Alvarez lollipopped a hilariously bad throw over Russell Martin’s head, allowing a third run to score. Hughes then got Adam LaRoche to bounce into a double play. He faced three hitters, should have gotten three groundouts, and instead let all three inherited runners score and got tagged with a blown save. The world is an unfair place.
Unfortunately, the Pirates decided not to go quietly. Starling Marte got hit by a pitch to open the ninth and Travis Snider followed that up with a single. Marte scored on a wild pitch with Ike Davis up, then Davis drew a walk. After Gaby Sanchez bounced out, Gregory Polanco laced a two-run double into the right-center gap (his first hit in 20 at-bats). Josh Harrison followed that up with a single of his own, but for some reason Nick Leyva held Polanco at third (it would’ve been close, but I think you can argue for playing for the insurance run there), and Harrison instead got thrown out at second. The inning ended with Polanco on third one batter later.
Still, even without the insurance run, the Pirates turned to Mark Melancon in the ninth inning. Melancon has been the Pirates only reliable reliever since July 1 (I guess you can count Hughes here, too, though he’s a different animal with his awful K/BB rate), and he’s been dominant since the All-Star Break. And so of course he gave up a walk and two straight hits to tie the game. He got out of the ninth, but the Pirates had to turn to Brandon Cumpton in the tenth inning, and a combination of Cumpton and Michael Martinez being in left field for some reason (I don’t know why Martinez was in left with Josh Harrison at short, Martinez has played short much more than Harrison and Harrison has spent plenty of time in the outfield this year) ruined the game for the Pirates in the 11th.
The frustrating thing here is exactly what I wrote about before the game; the Pirates have no pitching, and it’s been obvious since before the season began that pitching was going to be a problem for them. Tonight in particular the problems were that Volquez was allowed to go out for a seventh inning despite losing it in the sixth, and that their bullpen is so depleted and useless that they had to turn it over to the long reliever to just pitch out the string in the tenth inning. If you’re a contender, you should be able to get your starter after six if he’s out of gas, and you shouldn’t have to just throw your hands up in the air and hope for the best with a Quad-A replacement player before the 12th or 13th inning. The Pirates can’t do either of these things right now, and that’s what cost them a winnable game today.
The Pirates are now 5 1/2 back of the Brewers, so you can put your NL Central dreams on hold for now. Both the Cardinals and Giants won today, so the Bucs are now 1 1/2 out of the second wild card. Next week they play the Braves, who are a half game behind them, and then the Brewers. I’m being 100% serious when I say this: if this upcoming week goes the same as the week that just ended, then at this time seven days from now, the Pirates will no longer be playoff contenders. It’s officially now-or-never time.