Well, that was cathartic.
After losing two coin-flip games to open the series, then getting outplayed pretty clearly last night, the Pirates managed to salvage something from this trip to St. Louis tonight by beating up on Shelby Miller and the Cardinals’ bullpen, while getting a complete game from Edinson Volquez. Given that the Reds and Brewers both lost earlier today, the Pirates end this first part of the week one game behind the Reds, 1 1/2 behind the Cardinals, and 3 1/2 behind the Brewers. Given that this series against the Cards was all-around pretty equal, this end result in the standings coupled with today’s win makes losing three out of four feel not nearly as disastrous as it might have. That’s especially true since the Pirates will have a chance to make up a game on the Reds after losing two games to them in the standings this week.
There was obviously plenty to like about this game beyond just the effect on the standings. Andrew McCutchen looked lost in the woods for the first three games of this series, but he looked like he was right on top of the ball tonight, going 2-for-4 and playing a big role in the Pirates’ early runs. He scored the first run in the first inning, after singling, then stealing second and third. He drove in the second run, and scored the fourth run on Neil Walker’s fifth inning double. Russell Martin also had a big night, with an RBI double and a solo homer, plus a runner caught stealing on the bases. Pedro Alvarez had a nice opposite field double and he also reached on an infield hit to open the Pirates’ four-run sixth inning, which was aided by some hilarious Cardinal defense (Matt Carpenter tried to play a popped-up Edinson Volquez bunt into a double play but forgot the wheel play was on) and a Josh Harrison ground rule double. Even Gregory Polanco scored twice despite not having a hit, since he was able to draw two walks.
On the other side of things, Edinson Volquez threw the Pirates first complete game of the season (!). He held the Cardinals to one run on six hits, and striking out five and walking two. He was greatly aided by four double plays, three of the traditional ground ball variety and one of the strike ‘em out/throw ‘em out variety. He threw 77 of his 114 pitches for strikes, and he mixed his fastball, curveball, and changeup together nicely all night, throwing all three pitches pretty much where he wanted them. Since his disastrous start against the Reds, he’s made an eight-inning start, a six-inning start, a seven-inning start, and now tonight’s complete game. That’s three starts of seven innings or longer in his last four starts; last year he only had three of them total.
Of course, this win really means much of anything if the Pirates can continue with a strong performance in Cincinnati this weekend. Still, it’s hard to not feel a little bit better about things than after last night’s game.