For most of the afternoon, watching this game just made me mad. The Pirates left runners on base all over the field, they left Ross Ohlendorf on the mound for a sixth inning that he obviously didn’t have in him, they ran into outs at terrible junctures, and Clint Hurdle decided to bust out the bunt with his cleanup hitter at the plate and the go-ahead run on first. And then Pedro Alvarez cued a ball into no-man’s land behind the pitcher, Starlin Castro made the only mistake he made in the entire series, Neil Walker and Nick Leyva made a super-heads up call on the base paths, and the Pirates won.
I’m not here to complain about a Pirate win; they hit the ball hard off of Garza all day, they did what they had to do against Marmol, who’s the sort of guy that should give their offense trouble, and they made some nifty plays in the field (also, some not-so-nifty plays in the field, but hey, something’s better than nothing). Ohlendorf looked good early on before tailing off a bit later in the game, and Crotta, Karstens, and Hanrahan were excellent over the last three innings to make up for yesterday’s bullpen debacle. The Pirates did a lot of good things today, and they won in the end (though Ronny Cedeno’s bad throw on Hanrahan’s first double play ball was about as heart-attack inducing as any play in early April can be).
But yeesh, small ball and mindlessly aggressive base-running is going to cost the Pirates more games than it helps them win in the end. I understand that conventional baseball wisdom is to send a runner from third on a relatively deep fly ball no matter who that runner is, just to make the outfielder throw the ball. But on that play? The Pirates had the bases loaded, one out, and the top of the lineup up. If Jaramillo plants himself at third, they still have Garrett Jones up against the righty Wood with the bases loaded. Jaramillo is sooooo slooooooooow that I just don’t like taking the bat out of the offense’s hands there. We’d been hitting the ball all day. Why risk it with a guy as slow as Jaramiilo?
And Overbay’s bunt … I know it’s a defensible play, both from the traditional baseball standpoint and a sabermetric one. My problem is that the benefit of the bunt is minimal — according to FanGraphs, the Pirates had a 44.8% chance of winning before Overbay’s bunt and a 45.2% chance of winning after it — and the mindset that leads to having your cleanup hitter, a guy with two hits on the day and a guy that absolutely lit things up in spring training, square around to bunt with the game on the line instead of letting him swing away is just unacceptable to me. Overbay, Walker, Tabata, all these guys are on the roster to hit and they should be allowed to do so. The bunt worked out today, but that sort of over-reliance on the bunt will almost certainly cost the Pirates more runs than it will earn them in the long run.
I really don’t mean to rain on the parade here; the Pirates came into Chicago and faced three good pitchers. They got a lot of hits, they drew some hugely important walks (even today, they only drew one walk but it was Jones’s off of Marmol to start the ninth), they got three starts that ranged from good to good enough, the bullpen was excellent besides one ugly inning, they won two games on the road after a season in which they only won 17 all year, and they won today on a great heads-up play by Walker (and Leyva, who I’m pretty sure waved him around) today. It’s a great way to start the season and I guess for now, that’s all that’s important.