After I went out of my way to say nice things about Jeff Karstens earlier this afternoon, Karstens gave the Pirates an outing that was Vintage 2010 Karstens tonight. He wasn’t bad, but he got hit hard pretty consistently all night and that helped the Dodgers to a 4-2 lead after seven. When he came out, Clint Hurdle elected to go to Juan Cruz for the second night in a row and Cruz loaded up the bases without a hit before coming out of the game. Tony Watson did a nice little escape act, but the Dodgers pushed a fifth run ahead and that was more than enough to hold up what amounted to the Garrett Jones show at the plate tonight (Jones was 4-for-4 with two doubles, three RBIs, and he scored the fourth run himself).
Of course in a game like this in the heat of a pennant race there are a million little places we can nit-pick. On Jones’s two-run double in the third, Mark Ellis made a bad throw to home plate that skipped into the third base dugout while Jones stood flat-footed on second base, maybe thinking that the backup on the play would’ve resulted in him being tagged out that third. Because he didn’t try to take third on the bad throw, the umpires only awarded him third base and he ended up stranded there (the rule on plays like that is that you get the base you would’ve had without the bad throw plus one; had Jones made an attempt to go to third the ruling most likely would’ve been that he advanced to third on the error and so the bad throw moves him home, but he literally made zero attempt to move off of second). Jones had a great game tonight, of course; the Pirates’ four runs were powered by his bat and his leaping-catch-turned-double-play in the top of the second likely stymied what could’ve been a huge Dodger rally that inning. His baserunning is something that’s constantly an issue, though, and the more it happens the more it stands out during the games to me.
I’m not solely blaming Jones for the loss here; simply noting all of the things that got the Pirates this result tonight. Using Juan Cruz in the seventh inning was baffling to me. He wasn’t one of the Pirates’ better relievers before he got hurt, and he’s only just now off of the disabled list. Of course, with Brad Lincoln gone it’d be fair to argue that the Pirates don’t have an option that’s obviously better than Cruz in that spot; Resop has been good lately but he has his own failings, Chad Qualls is Chad Qualls, Tony Watson is generally saved to face lefties, and Jeff Locke is only here to work in long relief. You could read that as an indictment of trading Lincoln, but I’m more frustrated with how the bullpen is structured right now than anything. The Pirates have 13 pitchers on the roster, but with Kevin Correia in the rotation and Locke apparently being saved for long relief only, you effectively eliminate seven pitchers to use in key situations. The Pirates have gone to all of this roster manipulation to save their starters’ arms during this 20-games-in-20-days stretch, and Hurdle’s essentially using his bullpen like he’s got an 11-man staff. This is CRAZY. It’s crazy to waste a roster spot on a sixth starter AND an unused long reliever while Juan Cruz AND Chris Resop AND Chad Qualls AND Tony Watson pitch key innings while Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson and Chris Leroux sit in Triple-A without even getting a look.
I don’t even know that Morris or Wilson or Leroux would necessarily be cure-alls for the bullpen here (leaving Leroux aside, Morris and Wilson are obviously talented kids with great stuff that could have the element of surprise on their side since the NL hasn’t seen them at all right now, but there have been plenty of questions about Morris’s head during his long stint in the minors with the Pirates and Dodgers and Wilson’s control is obviously a concern). It’s just incredibly clear to me right now that besides Grilli and Hanrahan the Pirates have no reliever capable of reliably getting big outs and that it seems like it’s time to roll the dice with talent over whatever it is that someone thinks the Cruz/Watson/Resop/Qualls combination is bringing to the table for the Pirates. It seems clear to me that the Pirates are afraid to bring these kids up and throwing them right into the fire, but trading Lincoln basically mandated that they do that. Their reluctance to be bold here is costing them baseball games here. Neal Huntington has no concerns being bold in the draft or at the trade deadline; why the hesitation here? I don’t get it.
Conclusion: one run losses in playoff races against teams that the Pirates are competing for playoff spots with are stressful.