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Pirates' Strike-Zone Issues Continue In Loss To Cardinals, 3-2

The Pirates got a pair of runs in the first inning off a double by Jose Tabata and a two-run homer by Lyle Overbay. Unfortunately, it would be tough for James McDonald to keep that lead - he was inefficient and had trouble putting hitters away, and his command wasn't particularly sharp either. Of course, it also didn't help that the ump's strike zone was consistently wacky throughout the night, and usually not in the Pirates' favor.

Anyway, Allen Craig drove in a run in the fourth on an RBI single (and he wound up at second when Andrew McCutchen threw to the wrong base). And Albert Pujols hit a sacrifice fly in the following inning to tie the game. McDonald was removed after 4.2 innings after four strikeouts and four walks.

By the way, Cardinals pitcher Kyle McClellan, making his first major-league start, had seven strikeouts and one walk through six innings. Opposing pitchers outperforming the Bucs' starters in strikeouts/walks has been a theme so far this season - think back to the last game in the Cubs series, when Matt Garza had 12 strikeouts and Ross Ohlendorf had three, and the Pirates won anyway. Or to last night, when Charlie Morton had two strikeouts and five walks while Kyle Lohse had five punchouts and one walk, and again, the Pirates won anyway.

Bucs Dugout readers have been curiously muted about the Pirates' play so far, and for a lot of the folks in the gamethreads, the strike-zone issue is a big reason why. While I think that, for example, Morton's start was very encouraging, and while McDonald deserves somewhat of a free pass for his performance today due to his injury (and the bizarro world strike zone), the offense has no such excuse, and it's really hard to sustain a winning record when your offense strikes out three times as often as it walks and your pitching has almost as many walks as strikeouts. (And yes, I know that many high-strikeout hitters perform perfectly well, but when your entire offense has been producing over a small sample despite a really bad K:BB ratio, that can be a sign that some serious regression is on the way.) Pedro Alvarez has eight strikeouts and no walks so far. Neil Walker, for all his heroics, has 10 strikeouts and one walk.

It's not all gloom and doom, obviously. We've all seen enough Alvarez slumps to know that he sometimes needs time to adjust, and I think in the long run he'll be fine. But most of the folks in the gamethread seem to be taking the attitude that we need to throw the won-loss record out the window right now and focus on things the Pirates can think about fixing, and I tend to agree. Fan confidence isn't high, at least not here, and while it's nice to savor the wins the Bucs have had so far, I think the concerned outlook expressed in the gamethreads has, on the whole, been appropriate.

Anyway, Garrett Olson came on in the seventh and gave up a walk and a single, and then Chris Resop came in and allowed a single by Albert Pujols the brought home the go-ahead run. The Bucs couldn't get to the geriatric and control-challenged Miguel Batista, and Alvarez's strikeout with two on and two outs in the top of the eighth was their last real chance. 3-2, Cardinals.

Something positive from this one: Alvarez's defense has been unexpectedly good so far this year. Today he made an unconventional tag-third-and-throw-to-first double play that showcased his excellent arm. And Overbay is a good target for him across the diamond - he has shown terrific picking ability so far this season.