See, when the Cardinals faced the Pirates last week, this is what Mark McGwire thought would happen against James McDonald. McDonald allowed four home runs in 2.2 innings, putting the Pirates in a big hole right away, leading to a 12-8 loss and provoking more questions about the Bucs' rotation.
The Pirates scored one in the first on an RBI single by Gaby Sanchez. But McDonald started the bottom of the inning with a walk to Norichika Aoki, and then Rickie Weeks reached on an error by Pedro Alvarez. Then Ryan Braun smashed a fastball way over the left-field wall, and the Brewers were up 3-1.
McDonald struck out the next three batters to end the inning, but after Michael McKenry cut the lead to 3-2 with a solo blast in the top of the second, McDonald quickly got into more trouble. He gave up a one-out solo homer to Jeff Bianchi, and then, after a two-out single by Aoki, a two-run shot off the scoreboard by Rickie Weeks. Braun whiffed to end the inning. By that point, McDonald had struck out six batters, but he'd also allowed three homers, all on fastballs.
The Pirates got two back in the third after they loaded the bases and McKenry hit a two-run single, but they couldn't keep pace with McDonald, who allowed a double to Corey Hart and a two-run shot to Carlos Gomez before being removed in the third. Again, the homer came on a fastball.
Yikes. The problem, at this point, is that when McDonald's command and breaking pitches are working, he's probably the Bucs' best starting pitcher. If he's not hurt, they really have no choice but to keep letting him start, especially with Jeff Karstens battling injury. The Pirates really aren't that great a team, so if they're going to make a run, they need to get as much as possible out of their most talented players. Unfortunately, the last time McDonald had a good start against anyone but the Cardinals was July 7 against the Giants. He struck out six and walked one today, but if he can't command his fastball, his starts will probably continue to be frustrating at best.
The Brewers kept going in the fourth as if McDonald hadn't been replaced by Chris Leroux -- pitcher Yovani Gallardo led off with a homer, and Leroux put on the next two batters, both of whom came home on a single by Aramis Ramirez that put Milwaukee up 11-4.
The Pirates, to their credit, kept fighting. Garrett Jones led off the fifth with a single, and Gaby Sanchez homered to left center to make it 11-6. Then McKenry walked, Travis Snider singled, and Brock Holt hit a rather weak grounder up the middle to score McKenry. (Holt went 2-for-5 in his first big-league start.) Justin Wilson relieved Leroux and finally pitched the Pirates' first scoreless inning, and the Pirates tacked on one more in the sixth when Jones hit his 23rd homer of the season.
The Bucs trailed 11-8 in the bottom of the sixth when Wilson allowed three straight singles, the last of which resulted in a run. Chris Resop relieved him and put out the fire.
The seventh and eighth innings were relatively quiet, but the Pirates made some more noise in the ninth, as the first two batters reached against Manny Parra. The Brewers then called on John Axford, who got Alvarez to fly out and whiffed McKenry and Josh Harrison to end it.
After being swept in Milwaukee, the Pirates are now 70-63 on the season, and they now get a merciful stretch of home games against the Astros and Cubs. Let's hope they take advantage, because I'm mildly worried now about them even finishing with a winning season, let alone nabbing a Wild Card spot.