First, apologies for missing the game thread today -- that the Bucs were playing at 1:00 on a Monday (because of some event the Tigers are holding afterwards) took me by surprise.
Anyway, hits, hits, hits. If parts of last weekend's series against the Reds were frustrating because of the Pirates' inability to get hits with runners in scoring position, this afternoon's game was a satisfying correction to that trend. The Bucs scored in all five innings Justin Verlander pitched, piling up a big lead with a combination of timely hits and small ball. They then held on to win, 7-4.
In the first, John Jaso led off with an opposite-field double, then came home on a single by DH (and former Tiger) Matt Joyce. In the second, Gregory Polanco led a parade of baserunners as Verlander loaded them up, and Jordy Mercer brought home two runs with a ground ball to center. In the third, Joyce doubled, moved to third as Starling Marte hit a grounder to the right side, and came home on Francisco Cervelli's sacrifice fly. In the fourth, it was Josh Harrison who led off with a double, followed by Sean Rodriguez's walk, Mercer's sacrifice bunt (questionable, but definitely less bad than usual with a lead), and came home on Jaso's sac fly. Then in the fifth, Marte doubled, went to third on Cervelli's single, and came home as Polanco doubled to left. Rodriguez then brought home Cervelli with a bloop single. Verlander, meanwhile, left after 4.1 innings and 111 pitches.
That was more than enough; the Tigers scored a few runs in the middle innings, but the Pirates were too far ahead for that to matter much. Jon Niese ended up allowing four runs, three earned. He gave up two home runs, although he struck out five and walked one [edit -- not three, not sure where that came from].
Meanwhile, this offense -- if you actually read that third paragraph straight through, you saw the same names popping up over and over. There was Polanco, who went 3-for-5 and is now batting .381 (and with nine walks in seven games). Even Polanco's last at-bat, one of the two in which he didn't reach base, was a hard liner to center; his start to the season has been fantastic. There was Cervelli, who went 3-for-4 and is now 10-for-22 for the year. There was Jaso, who delivered two hits and is doing a fine job spiking the ball to the opposite field. There was Harrison, who was 2-for-3 with a walk. And there were Marte and Joyce, who managed two knocks apiece. For the day, the Pirates wound up with 17 hits.
It's easy to get down about two frustrating losses to a bad Reds team, and it's fair to note that the Pirates as a team have five fewer home runs than Rockies rookie infielder Trevor Story does. But the Bucs headed into this afternoon with a team .387 OBP. Jaso looks, at least so far, like a legitimate contributor, and Polanco looks like he's blooming into a terrific player. The Pirates are now 5-2. I'm optimistic.