I don’t know, I’m sort of all out of things to say about this Pirate team at this particular point in time. Tonight, Jeff Locke took the mound and had absolutely zero command of the strike zone. This has been a recurring problem of late, but there hasn’t even been a slight consideration to removing him from the rotation because the Pirates have literally zero other options right now. Locke didn’t record even one out in the fourth inning, but he walked five hitters and three of those walkers came around to score, leaving the Pirates in a 5-2 hole when he exited. Remember two starts ago when Locke walked six guys against the Brewers but was relatively unscathed and I said that there was no reasonable way to expect that outcome with that performance again? This is how those sorts of games normally play out.
The shame of it all is that the Pirates really did manage to get to Adam Wainwright tonight, taking him deep three times in his six innings of work, pushing four runs across. With a different performance from their starter, maybe the Pirates could’ve had a chance. Instead, they were playing catch-up for most of the game and seemed two steps behind the Cardinals after about the fourth inning onwards. There was a bright spot besides the home runs: John Holdzkom made his big league debut and looked legitimately electric. He mixed a crazy palmball with a 96 mph fastball and he struck out the side on 14 pitches (though he was helped and hampered by Russell Martin in the inning after Martin let Peter Bourjos reach first with a passed ball on Holdzkom’s first strikeout, then threw him out at second a batter later). Because he seemed to grow an inch every time Tim Neverett or John Wehner mentioned his height, he more or less became an instant Internet Legend, even though I’m relatively sure that well-informed Pirate fans learned about his existence on Sunday when the Pirates put him on the 40-man roster and mostly everyone else only heard his name for the first time when he was called up this afternoon.
I guess this is probably the first time since 1997 that the Pirates are involved in an actual playoff race in which it’s actually unclear in early September whether they will make the playoffs or not. I mean, I know last year was stressful and the division race went into the season’s last week or so, but the actual playoff spot was sewn up well in advance. The 2011 and 2012 Pirates were both more conflagration than contender by this point. I’m mentioning this because the honest truth is that I don’t really know how it works to see a team that has a legitimate chance of contending slowly fade back into the pack because as a Pirate fan, I have practically zero experience with it. I don’t know if there’s a morning where we all wake up, look at the standings, and declare the Pirates toast, or if it’s more of a “If I had to say exactly where it all went wrong” sort of theoretical thing after the season. You can probably guess where this is headed: if the Pirates don’t make the playoffs (and I don’t think they’re going to at this point, though I will again say that I’m not writing them off because the Brewers look terrible right now), I think that this stretch right here with a winnable game against the Reds on Sunday, a winnable game against the Cardinals on Tuesday, and an awful start from Locke tonight that burned a chance to beat Wainwright, is going to be where we figure that it all went permanently south.
I hope I’m wrong, but I really don’t have a good feeling about this.