It’s hard to imagine a bigger pitching mismatch on paper than Edinson Volquez vs. Zack Greinke given Greinke’s great start to 2014 and Volquez’s roller coaster season to this point, but Volquez more or less matched Greinke pitch for pitch over his five innings of work tonight. His curveball was as good as it’s been all year for the Pirates, and with the curve working he racked up six strikeouts to go with just one walk, holding the Dodgers to two runs on five hits. He even had a 6:1 groundout/flyout ratio today, so for five innings he looked a lot like the pitcher that Neal Huntington and Jim Benedict and Ray Searage presumably saw in their heads this winter.
Volquez got plenty of help from Andrew McCutchen tonight, as McCutchen shined in the big game with a flash of power that we haven’t seen from ‘Cutch in quite a while. He started a rally against Greinke in the first with a two-out double, scoring after Ike Davis and Russell Martin walked and Pedro Alvarez singled in two runs. He hit a long home run to dead center in the third (his first home run since April 23rd), and then he doubled and scored again in the sixth inning. McCutchen had been in a bit of a slump heading into this game, hitting only .206 since the beginning of the Nationals’ series. Even in that stretch, he drew seven walks and had an OBP of .357. Still, as crazy as this sounds, McCutchen had half as many extra base hits tonight as he had in the entire month of May (five doubles and a triple), and yet he was carrying a 147 wRC+ into this game. If he goes on a power surge in June, he’s going to suddenly be having a season at the plate that might deserve to be discussed with the seasons being had by Troy Tulowitzki and Yasiel Puig to this point.
The bullpen also played a big role in this win; Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon all pitched scoreless innings of relief. That all set the stage for Jason Grilli to exploit the benefit of a three-run lead. After he struck out Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp to start the ninth, he walked Justin Turner and Jamie Romak, then served up a single to Scott Van Slyke before getting Dee Gordon to line out to end the game.
On Thursday night, I was hoping to see the Pirates sneak maybe one or two wins out of this series in LA. Three wins is a pretty great result for the Bucs, I think. They finished May 15-14, which was a huge improvement on April’s 10-16, but they actually had a worse run differential in May. The blowout loss on Saturday didn’t help that any, but I think that this Pirate team is still a really hard team to get a read on. They seem like they’re making some progress, though, and so I guess the next obstacle is this “four games below .500 barrier” that they’ve had trouble breaking of late. They’re heading to San Diego next, and that seems like as good a place as any to do that.