The math from the All-Star Break was pretty easy: with 73 games left and 46 wins in the bank, playing about .600 baseball (.602, to be exact) would get the Pirates to 90 wins. From the break (and from here), that looks like a pretty decent target to get into this year’s Wild Card Coin Flip. With the particularly easy run of schedule behind the second half’s first series in DC, the mantra gets easier: take two of three.
From Friday afternoon, two of three against the Phillies seemed like a relatively easy task with Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Jameson Taillon slated to pitch for the Pirates. Cole did indeed come out firing on Friday, but some bad luck in the sixth inning (a ball bouncing off of a base, a pitching barely nicking a hitter’s back leg) shortened his outing and gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead that was plenty for Zach Eflin’s masterful 100-pitch shutout. In the end, neither the bullpen nor the offense bailed Cole out, and the Phillies won 1-0.
On Saturday afternoon, I went to the game excited to see Tyler Glasnow’s PNC Park debut. Instead, I saw the same pitcher that I saw struggle in Durham late last year; he walked the second batter, that batter stole a base, and then scored. In the second inning, he committed an error, that batter stole a base, and then he scored. In the third inning, he gave up a single (with a stolen base), a walk, and then hit a guy in the head, but someone escaped. In the fourth inning, he gave up another walk followed by another HBP, and walked off of the mound and onto the disabled list with the same nebulous “shoulder fatigue” that put Jameson Taillon on the shelf a few weeks ago. I was more or less delirious with heat exhaustion at this point, as the game was about two hours old and there wasn’t really anywhere to hide from the sun at PNC, but the Pirate offense turned the tables on the Phillies in the bottom of that inning with a five-run rally that only required three hits and snuck out a win.
On Sunday, they turned a similar trick with the long ball. Jameson Taillon was very uneven over his six innings of work, striking out a career-high seven, but allowing as many home runs as he did in his entire AAA stint this year (two). That gave the Phillies a 4-2 lead after they batted in the sixth, but the Pirates erased that with two very long longballs of their own; Matt Joyce off of the batter’s eye with Starling Marte on to tie the game in the sixth, and Adam Frazier (owner of a grand total of three minor league homers) off of the top fence in the right field grandstand to put the Pirates ahead for good in the seventh.
And so we begin this week where we’ve begun most of the last month; with the Pirates playing well and getting wins, but with no real answers to any of our questions about the rotation. Cole was stronger than he was in DC but not spectacular. Taillon was at least good enough that the home runs didn’t kill the team. Glasnow enacted the Tyler Glasnow Nightmare Scenario, in which a bad offense exploited his weaknesses and also he got hurt. I don’t know how serious his injury is, but even if it’s not serious, I’m now wondering what his role with the 2016 Pirates is.
Luckily for the Pirates, the offense is good and the back of the bullpen is better. The offense responded with runs, and Feliz, Watson, and Melancon shut the Phillies down. With a win on Tuesday, the Pirates would be 6-4 in the second half, which would be right on that .600 pace. They have 14 more games against bad teams before they see another contender. That stretch will take them over the trade deadline. Hopefully by the time they go out west to face the Dodgers and Giants in August, they’ve figured out how the rotation can help them stay on that pace.
Image credit: Justin Berl, Getty Images