Yesterday, in a short soliloquy that included an observation that reminded one of Ecclesiates 3, Hurdle said that the "baseball season has cycles, and the season has seasons." Over the long course of 162 games, narratives come and go, the seasons turn, turn, turn, and the key is to continue to stay focused on the larger picture. (Later he used Cortez and the burning of his ships on the Mexican shore as an analogy for his starting pitchers continuing to battle, regardless of whether they were being credited with pitching wins or not.)
On the heels of winning four of their last six games, three in fairly dramatic fashion, the Pirates are perhaps a little closer to turning the page on the terrible stretch of 19 games, in which they went 4-15. As the depressing doubleheader in Baltimore fades a little bit further into the background, perhaps a new narrative, a new season within a season, is emerging.
The upcoming three games against the Cardinals provides the Bucs with an excellent opportunity to bump the season along a different trajectory.
Another streak broken - Cole gets a Win
Last night, Charlie Morton broke the string of eight games of sub-six-inning starts by Pirates pitchers. This afternoon, Gerrit Cole got the first winning decision for a Pirates starter since April 17th.
Cole was very good today, going eight innings, allowing three runs and netting seven strikeouts. His game score was just short of a gem, 62.
"Getting good pitching when we start hitting the ball is something we've been lacking," Cole said. "We went in a rut where we hit the ball and we didn't really pitch too well, so it seems like we're back on track."
A chance for a complete game?
Cole had thrown a hundred pitches through seven innings this afternoon when Hurdle sent him back out for the eighth. It took him only seven pitches to retire the side. With a chance at a complete game, there was some discussion about whether Hurdle would send him back out in the ninth.
The decision was made easy, when Cole's spot in the lineup came up in the ninth.
However, Hurdle said afterwards that, even though Cole pitched well in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, retiring nine of the last 10 batters he faced, he was not going to send Cole back out in the ninth, regardless of whether he batted in the eighth.
Another surprise leadoff hitter, another good performance
After four straight games with Josh Harrison batting leadoff, Hurdle went with Travis Snider today (2-for-3, a triple, two RBIs, run-scored). The Pirates have used four different leadoff hitters this season, three since May 1.
The recent carousel of leadoff hitters not named Starling Marte has performed rather well in the small sample size of eight games.
Leadoff hitters went .234/.303/.306 in April; In May, they went .278/.350/.528.
"It was just a gut feeling," Hurdle said of starting Snider. "What more could you ask from him? He was on base three times, an extra base hit, a two-run single, a walk. He showed up very well for us today."
Marte continues to thrive in May
Starling Marte was moved out of the leadoff spot on May 1. He is batting .382/.432/.514 since.
Pitching with emotion
Hurdle provided some insight into an area that the team is focusing-on in terms of Cole's development. It is something that we can watch for in future starts.
As we know, Cole has an intense disposition on the mound. (Actually, his whole personality begins to change in the clubhouse the night before a start.) Of all the Pirates' pitchers, Cole is the most demonstrative. We saw his frustration and emotions boil over earlier this year in the Carlos Gomez incident.
When he gets frustrated, he begins to pitch "emotionally, rather than with emotion," Hurdle said. Pitching emotionally leads to Cole getting "over-aggressive," and the velocity between his pitches begins to narrow and his breaking stuff loses bite.
"The soft stuff isn't as soft, the spin isn't as sharp, everything seems like it's in a hurry," Hurdle said.
The Pirates are working on is getting Cole to maintain a steady pace and rhythm on the mound, without sacrificing any of the intensity that otherwise serves him well.
So, the next time we see Cole frustrated on the mound, the areas to watch are his velocity separation, the break on his slider, and the pace at which he works.
Another one-run game; another one-run win
Today's 4-3 decision was the 10th one-run win of the season for the Pirates. Overall the Bucs have played in the most one-run games in the league, 18.
"We made defensive plays, we pitched well, we found a way to score one more run than them, that's kind of how we like doing it," Hurdle said.
I'm sure Hurdle wasn't being literal, but since 2012, the Bucs have both played in and won the most one-run games in the major leagues. Their record is 67-60, with a .528 wining percentage, the 11th best win-rate in baseball.
-P- Brandon Belt's home run was the first first-inning home run that Gerrit Cole has allowed in his career.
-P- With the win, the Pirates have won the first two legs of this important homestand. Next up are the Cardinals, with an intriguing pitching matchup on Friday, Michael Wacha vs. Francisco Liriano.