For a 12 batter stretch, Gerrit Cole was as dominant as he's been in a Pirate uniform. After putting the first two hitters of the game on base via a Coco Crisp single and a Josh Reddick walk, Cole escaped the first inning jam he'd created by striking out Josh Donalson with a nasty slider and John Jaso with a changeup. In the second inning, he struck out Brandon Moss and Dan Straily on pure 98-99 mph heat, putting the A's down in order. In the third inning, he only needed eight hits to dispense with the top of the A's lineup, getting two groundouts and an infield line-out. The fourth inning started with two more groundouts on six pitches.
Then, with Jaso up again, Cole seemed hesistant to go back to his off-speed stuff and Jaso fouled back-to-back 98-99 mph fastballs off before flipping what was probably a two-seamer right down the third base line and through the Pirates' shift. Starling Marte had an opportunity to throw Jaso out at second, but his throw was a bit off-line. One pitch later, Brandon Moss sent a changeup into the right field stands and the A's had a 2-1 lead that they obviously had no intentions of giving up.
The best thing that you could say for the Pirates' offense in this game is that they didn't look so bad with runners in scoring position, but that was only because they only managed to put two guys in scoring position all night. Pedro Alvarez thumped a home run off of the batter's eye to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the third,* but the Pirates only had two other hits. Both Andrew McCutchen and Alvarez looked dumb trying to yank Grant Balfour slider after Grant Balfour slider over the fence with the tying run on first base in the ninth inning.
The Pirates have now lost four games in a row, scoring five runs total. They've lost the last three by one run each. They've lost six of eight since the nine-game winning streak ended, only scoring one run four different times in those eight losses. We've seen this before, of course. The Pirates lost five of their first six games this year, only scoring eight runs and getting shut-out twice. They lost five of six again to the Reds and Braves from May 31 through June 6, getting shut out three times in the process.
It goes without saying that this is frustrating to watch, but the Pirates have been here before and bounced back. In June, their offense score the sixth most runs in the National League and had the fourth highest wRC+. The Pirates' problem isn't that their hitters aren't good, it's that their hitters strike out a ton (740 K's before the night was the second highest in the National League) and that as a result they tend to function collectively like Pedro Alvarez on a large scale; when a few guys are in a slump at the same time, it's awfully hard to get anything going without balls being put into play.
I'm mentioning this because the overwhelming response to this slump is that the Pirates have to do something about the offense, and that I sincerely doubt that there's much they're going to do to change its hold-and-cold-nature. Look at these strikeout for Pirates with more than 100 plate appearances; you can say that taking at-bats away from Inge and Snider and Barmes will help things, but Alvarez, Marte, and probably Jones aren't going anywhere and the Pirates' pitching staff will continue to hit dreadfully, which makes up four lineup spots without discussing Jordy Mercer's long-term hitting ability in the big leagues or Andrew McCutchen's ability to sustain his career-low strikeout rate to this point in 2013.
This isn't meant as a value judgment of an offense that strikes out a lot but rather an observation that the streakiness we've seen from the offense is likely how it's going to be for the rest of the year, whether the Pirates go out and get a bat or not. For now, I suppose the best we can do as Pirate fans is take solace in the fact that the pitching staff looks fine and know that we're probably not all that far away from the bats breaking out again.
*After the home run, Greg Brown and Bob Walk went off on such a ridiculous rant against David Wright for not putting Pedro Alvarez on the Home Run Derby roster that I actually switched over to the A's broadcast. They literally freaked out, with Brown questioning how the two captains were named (they both play in New York, you dummy), then with both men questioning Wright's integrity for naming his childhood friend Michael Cuddyer to the Derby over Alvarez (or, you know, over Jay Bruce or Paul Goldschmidt or Domonic Brown, all of whom have cases equal to or better than Alvarez's, but who never ever seem to come up on the Greg Brown end of this discussion). It was frankly embarrassing; the Pirates' broadcasters are almost always ridiculous homers (last night Steve Blass straight up said that he thought Jeff Locke had better stuff than Tom Glavine), but it rarely happens in such an obnoxious fashion that I actually want to turn the game off or feel like I have to mention it in a post. In conclusion: the Home Run Derby is really dumb, and Greg Brown and Bob Walk are dumber for insinuating that David Wright is a bad person for naming Michael Cuddyer to the Derby over Pedro Alvarez. I'm actually still angry thinking about this.