Before the game started, I laid my gameplan out thusly: Jeff Locke needed to keep the game close for as long as Shelby Miller was on the mound, the Pirates needed to work Miller to get him out of the game reasonably early, and the Pirates needed to pile runs on the Cardinals' struggling bullpen. That worked pretty much to perfection with one notable exception: Jeff Locke did more than keep the Pirates within striking distance. For his second straight start, he was excellent. He tossed a shutout over a career-high seven innings, striking out four, walking two, and only allowing three hits. Over his last two starts, he's thrown 13 shutout innings, striking out ten, walking four, and scattering five hits off into the wind.
On the offensive side, things started slowly. In the second inning, Russell Martin took an up-and-out fastball from Miller and slammed it over the centerfield fence. In the fifth inning, Jose Tabata took almost the exact same pitch and drove it the other way over the right field wall. In the sixth, Miller finally got chased with a Brandon Inge single. Fernando Salas was greeted with a John McDonald double that was more a terrible play by Matt Holliday (the ball literally bounced off of his wrist) that scored Inge. Garrett Jones homered in the seventh to drive the lead up to four. In the ninth, the runs came pouring in; Pedro Alvarez singled in two runs and Martin followed that up with a two-run homer.
Through 25 games, the Pirates are 15-10 and in first place in the National League Central. You know this drill by now: after starting 1-5, they're 14-5 with series wins over the Diamondbacks, Reds, Braves, Phillies, and now Cardinals. They're playing very strong defense and they're getting hits from all over the lineup. The pitching staff hasn't been great, but Jeff Locke has made two very good starts in a row now and Charlie Morton made another good rehab start and things have been better than the worst case scenario that I was certainly worried about before the season.
On one hand, it's 25 games and it doesn't reall mean anything. On the other hand, it's an incredible amount of fun to see the Pirates playing like this. A good April is only the start of a good season, but I'll take a good start over a bad one for sure. Milwaukee's next. If the Pirates are ever going anywhere, they're going to have to start winning games there. Maybe this will be the week.