Buried somewhere beneath the final score is another nice outing for the Pirate offense against a Cardinal team that's been particularly stingy with runs of late, but that's not what anyone will or should be talking about in the aftermath of this game. Instead, there's going to be a lot of focus put on James McDonald's bad outing.
If you've all you have to go on is his final line, don't let it fool you; those five unearned runs belong on him every bit as much as the three earned runs do. It's almost hard to describe the number of ways that he was bad in this game. His curveball didn't look sharp at all, he couldn't locate his fastball, he couldn't throw his fastball harder than about 90 mph, and when he somehow put a pitch anywhere near the strike zone, the Cardinals hammered it. We've all seen bad James McDonald before, but this was something different. I'm only speaking anecdotally, but it was really hard to watch him pitch tonight and not think that there's something wrong with him, healthwise. Nothing looked right.
With Wandy Rodriguez already missing a start, the Jonathan Sanchez experiment looking bad, Jeff Locke being Jeff Locke, and now this from McDonald, we're very rapidly approaching the scenario that I was worried about before the season started. I think that the offense is good enough to occasionally bail the team out from a bad start like they did yesterday, but that's not going to happen every night. I know it seems alarmist to say this given the week that the Pirates are coming off of, but the rotation is a looming problem for this team.
I suppose there's at least some good news from tonight. The offense was quite good, even with home plate umpire Brian O'Nora's terrible strike zone that messed with more than one at-bat (off the top of my head, both Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen took early-count strikes that were several inches off of the plate, which necessitated bad two-strike swings at pitches well out of the strike zone with runners on base at points in the game where a comeback seemed somewhat feasible). Neil Walker hit his first homer, Starling Marte had three more hits, and Travis Snider had a couple of nice at-bats. On another night, they would've been good enough to win, but not many teams can dig out of nine-run holes.
Francisco Liriano also made a nice rehab start for Bradenton tonight, which Tim chronicled at Pirates Prospects. The Pirates need him a little bit more every day.