The linescore makes this obvious, but this game was really decided in the first couple of innings. Neither starter came out with his best stuff, but the Brewers were able to capitalize on the rustiness that Gerrit Cole had after a longer-than-normal laoyff, while the Pirates left runners littered all over the bases against Yovani Gallardo despite hitting the ball awfully hard against him. Andrew McCutchen was stranded at third in the first inning after a triple that was very nearly an inside the park home run, two runners were stranded in the second after Marlon Byrd and John Buck both singled, and two runners were stranded in the fourth after a Gaby Sanchez walk and another Buck single.
By that point, the Brewers were already ahead 3-0. Tim Neverett mentioned as Cole took the mound that he said he felt his breaking ball was flat after his last long layoff, and in the early parts of this game he certainly looked like a pitcher that only had a fastball working. That was what gave him trouble in some of his rough minor league starts this year, as well as a few of his early outings with the Pirates. He did eventually settle in and he cruised through the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings (nine up, nine down thanks to a double play with a strikeout in each inning). Figuring out how to use him at this point in the season is qutie a tightrope for the Pirates; obviously they feel they need to monitor his workload, but holding him out for long stretches between starts seems to be decreasing his effectiveness. I'll be interested to see how they use him from here on out; when trying to figure out his potential max workload back around the break, I guessed that the Pirates would want/need to skip him maybe two or three times. They've used him on eight days rest twice now, which is the equivalent of maybe one or two skipped starts. It's possible that they're doing this maintenance now so that they don't have to do it in the home stretch. We'll see.
Cole's outing really wasn't the problem tonight, though — the offense was. The Bucs only gathered up three hits after the second inning and they hit into three double plays. Gallardo looked better after the early innings, but I never really thought he reminded me of his old self. That really didn't seem to matter, though, because the Pirates didn't threaten much at all as the game wore on.
With this loss, the Pirates drop to a full game out of first. As the mantra has gone recently, dropping two out of three to the Brewers feels like a missed opportunity. Two or three wins against the Cardinals this weekend will assuage that feeling quite a bit.