Real talk: I furtively watched bits of the Cavs/Warriors game while watching this one. The basketball game was a lot more exciting.
That's not to say that tonight's Pirates/Cubs matchup wasn't exciting to someone. Willson Contreras homering in his first big-league at-bat while the fans at Wrigley Field freaked out was exciting to someone. Just not to us.
The Pirates are still the team of Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang and Gregory Polanco and Mark Melancon. Good baseball players. But increasingly, these games feel like exhibits of Triple-A players who I really should know, but don't. And I say that as someone who's actually watched a lot of these guys play in Triple-A, and who wrote up their acquisitions and promotions. Oh -- A.J. Schugel is pitching. Some part of me had forgotten that A.J. Schugel was on the team, but here he is! And there goes a home run. Look, it's Curtis Partch! Let's admire all those 95-MPH fastballs as they fly vaguely in the direction of home plate. Now here's Jorge Rondon! He's a little like Partch, but worse. Hey, Jacob Stallings got a start today! And there's his famous dad in the stands.
This isn't to take anything away from Schugel, Partch, Rondon or Stallings. They're all good Triple-A pieces, and particularly in the cases of Schugel and Partch, I think they have limited roles to play in the big leagues. But right now it feels like the Pirates are being subsumed by this kind of player. They do not currently feel like the team of McCutchen or Kang or Polanco. They feel like the team of Erik Kratz and Jeff Locke.
It doesn't help that they're playing an exceptionally good team, and a team that doesn't seem to realize that, however good they are, they're still supposed to lose these games a third of the time. Today, the Cubs got homers from Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell in addition to Contreras. (Jameson Taillon, making his third big league start, gave up three of those homers.) The Cubs also piled up nine other hits, and, on the other side of the ball, got 12 strikeouts from their starter, Kyle Hedricks. So it was difficult for the Pirates to make much headway, despite bursts of strong hitting from Marte, Kang, Polanco and Josh Harrison.
There isn't much else to add, frankly. And while I'm loath to compare watching baseball to hardships real people face in their real lives, these last couple weeks have felt like reading, say, Catch-22 or The Unbearable Lightness of Being or something. You can see a sense of helplessness in the Pirates' eyes. When Clint Hurdle calls another pitcher from the bullpen, I think, "Does he know it doesn't really matter? What's he thinking about?" And that's tough. It's a different kind of tough than we experienced for years during the Bucs' streak of losing seasons, too, because it still feels like there's something at stake. This team was supposed to be good.