One way to ease the loss of your closer a little bit is to jump out to a 3-0 lead, get a strong start, and reel in a wire-to-wire four-run win. That's what the Pirates did to the Nationals tonight, converting one of Gerrit Cole's best starts as a Pirate, timely hitting (some from Gerrit Cole himself!), and a Pedro Alvarez homer into an easy 5-1 win over the Nats.
I didn't see the game due to the blackout, but I followed along for almost all of it via the radio broadcast and Gameday, and it seemed to me that Cole did a really good job changing speeds and mixing his pitches up tonight. He only had four strikeouts, but he induced ten groundouts (against two flyouts) and with the help of some sparkling defense from Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer (among others), he held the Nats to two hits and four baserunners (a walk and an HBP to go along with the two hits) over his seven easy innings. I thought Russell Martin helped him avoid another first inning problem quite a bit in the first inning by catching Bryce Harper stealing after a leadoff single. I have no idea why anyone bothers running on Russell Martin right now.
In the secong inning, it looked like the Pirates were going score some runs but still manage to thumb their nose in the face of hitting with runners in scoring position for the second night in a row. After loading the bases up with no outs, Neil Walker bounced into an RBI fielder's choice, then Anthony Rendon dropped a Ryan Zimmerman throw trying to turn a double play to let a second run in. Cole came up with runners on first and second, squared around to bunt, and pulled the butcher boy, singling through the hole between short and third. That scored the inning's third run and the Pirates didn't look back.
The Pirates added some more runs in the eighth when Pedro Alvarez lasered his 25th homer of the season to right field with two outs. Russell Martin followed that with a single, and Gaby Sanchez followed that with a pinch-hit double. Bryan Morris and Mark Melancon followed that by neatly closing out Cole's nice start, with Melancon only needing seven pitches in his first ninth inning as the Pirates closer (in a non-save situation, of course).
The win is the Pirates' third in a row, which gets them back to 20 games above .500 at 59-39. The Reds won and the Cardinals are beating the Phillies, so it seems like the Pirates' standing in the NL Central won't change tonight (that is: 1 1/2 behind St. Louis and three ahead of the Reds). The Bucs are 12 up on the Nats now, though. Assuming the Phillies lose they'll be 11 games behind the Pirates. The Diamondbacks will be either eight or nine games back, depending on the outcome of their game against the Cubs. This is a pretty nice place for the Pirates to be, is my point.