Not having internet access at home has been not quite as inconvenient as I thought it might be, but it has a few weird, unanticipated effects. One was on Friday, when I was trying to sneak home for a little before my parents came into town and I realized that my phone was out of minutes (the best way to have a smartphone on a grad school budget is to get the buried $30/month prepaid plan on T-Mobile’s website, but it requires you to suddenly keep track of the minutes left you on your phone like it’s 1996). In order to refill the phone, I had to go back to campus to my own laptop since I don’t have LastPass on my phone and needed internet access to refill the minutes.
It happened again yesterday morning when I realized that Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg were going to be on national TV for last night’s game. I suppose that must be what it was like to find out that your favorite team would be national TV after you’ve moved out of town before the dawn of MLB.tv: suddenly, I went from zero live Pirates for four days to being able to watch the most exciting pitching matchup of the year.
I wrote this after the first game of the Nationals’ series, but this four-game winning streak makes this Pirate team resemble last year’s edition way more than they did a week ago. Gerrit Cole didn’t pitch badly last night, but he was constantly working in and out of trouble after the third inning and it seemed like he was on the verge of disaster more than once. He worked through it, though, and he managed to bear down and get some big strikeouts when he needed them to minimize the damage. He was clearly amped up for the big stage; he was almost hilariously expressive on the mound last night in the first few innings. It wasn’t Cole’s best start as a Pirate and I think the way he tweaked his ankle shortly after Desmond’s home run affected him a bit, but I feel like coming up with the start that he did on a night when he wasn’t at 100% and his control wasn’t at its best is a good thing to see from Cole.
After the Nats scored their second run to go up 2-1, the FOX announcers made some comment to the effect of, “Well, with Strasburg on the mound you’d really expect him to bear down here and for this game to be over.” I didn’t really feel like that was true at any point; the Pirates didn’t have a lot of hits off of Strasburg early on and they didn’t have as many base runners as the Nats did, but they seemed to be squaring the ball up well off of Strasburg for most of the game.
I don’t really know what was in Matt Williams’ head in the seventh inning last night; I thought that the inning was over when Travis Snider stepped up with runners on second and third and two outs, and wanting to face Josh Harrison in that place instead seems crazy. I get the splits and the matchups and all and I complain as much as anyone when Clint Hurdle ignores them, but Snider isn’t hitting anyone this year (he’s got a .638 OPS against righties) and Harrison seems to be hitting everything in the last week. I told Mike Grau at TribLive before the game that I thought it was Harrison more than anything lending a 2013 feel to this last week; I’m not sure how he’s doing what he’s doing and I don’t know how long he can keep it up, but the Pirates should absolutely be riding this hot streak for as long as they can. I don’t mean that as a knock on Harrison, either, because he’s come a long way in the last year or so and he’s a very functional utility player. The Pirates should probably keep trying to find him at-bats once right field is no longer available to him, but that’s something to worry about down the road. For now, he’s plugging the hole in right field and sparking the offense at a time the Pirates need it, and that’s all that’s important.
As I wrote on Friday afternoon, what’s important now is that the Pirates don’t give this four-game winning streak right back. They’re making progress, and now that they’ve won four in a row the next goal should be to win three of the next four from the Nationals and Mets. A four-game sweep shouldn’t be out of the question today; Francisco Liriano really hadn’t been pitching all that poorly before the Orioles bombed him on Tuesday night. Certainly, he was pitching better than his winless record would’ve indicated. Obviously his bad start on Tuesday makes things a bit murkier, but in general I don’t think it’s impossible for him to turn a corner in the near future. Doug Fister will make his third start of the year for the Nats this afternoon. His first start against the A’s was really terrible, but he’s turned in two solid starts in a row since then. Fister is basically the manifestation of every Pirate fan’s Charlie Morton dreams; he started out as a super-heavy groundball pitcher, but he’s added enough strikeouts over the last couple of years to become a really solid upper-mid rotation guy.
First pitch today is at 1:35.