For a couple of innings, it felt like the Pirates were going to magicly stumble into yet another win. It seemed like the sun had already set on the Pirates in the top of the ninth inning, until Starling Marte hit an two-out, two-strike from Kevin Gregg over the left-center field fence to tie the game at three. We've already seen a couple of crazy comebacks for the Pirates on Sunday afternoons this year, why not add one more to the mix?
It wasn't meant to be, though, with the Cubs finally touching Bryan Morris up for the winning run in the 11th inning. Instead of a dramatic win, it's a frustrating loss. The Pirates have lost four of six against losing teams since their nine-game winning streak ended. On Sunday, the Pirates went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Brandon Inge made the last out of an inning with runners on base twice. The defense was sloppy. The game ended with Jason Grilli still unused in the bullpen.
Of course, there's a bit more to this game. I think that maybe the Grilli aspect is worth discussing; usually, I'd be pretty incensed if the Pirates ended a game with Bryan Morris on the mound and Grilli nowhere to be found, but I wasn't today. That's because Grilli has not looked great recently. Grilli blew his first save on June 17th against the Reds, serving up a solo homer to Jay Bruce in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game. Four days later, he nearly blew a four-run lead in the tenth inning against the Angels, giving up three runs on five hits (he'd only given up three runs all season before the blown save on the seventeenth). Clint Hurdle gave him a long rest after that game, not using him in a save situation against the Mariners on Wednesday of the next week. On June 29th, he closed out a win over the Brewers with a six-pitch save, but he didn't strike anyone out (for the first time in over a month) and he gave up some hard-hit balls. On the 30th, he pitched another scoreless inning with one hit and one strikeout. On July 3rd, he entered with a three-run lead and gave up two runs.
In Grilli's last six outings, he's given up six runs and only recorded six strikeouts over six innings (this would be a good strikeout rate for most people; it's awfully low for Grilli). It's annoyingly vague to say this, but he just hasn't looked right. If Hurdle were to say that he's decided that Grilli is only pitching in save situations and not on back-to-back days until the All-Star break to give him some rest, I wouldn't be surprised at all. It's early, of course, but I'm concerned.
There's also the Inge situation, which doesn't really even need re-hashing at this point. I understand that sometimes vets like Inge bring something to the table that we fans can't see or understand, but Inge is hitting .103/.103/.205 since May 24th. That's four hits in 39 at-bats. His defense is only useful at third base, where the Pirates rarely need him to play. There really can't be room for a guy like this on a big league roster, especially when Clint Barmes is already on the bench. You could probably say the same thing about Travis Snider, too, at this point; Snider's only hitting .174/.250/.257 since May 22nd and it looks like he's lost his job to Jose Tabata for the short-term (Tabata started all three games against the Cubs with three righties on the mound). When your bench is Barmes, Inge, Snider, McKenry, and Gaby Sanchez and you go ahead and use Sanchez against a right-handed hitter early in the game, you've got a bench problem.
All of this being said, baseball seasons are long. The Reds just lost a series to the Mariners. The Cardinals had lost 8 of 11 before this most recent series against the Marlins (who they lost a series to last month). Losing four out of six happens, even for good teams against bad teams. Remember: tomorrow's game is always the most important one when you're in a playoff race. The Pirates are very much in a playoff race.