The Pirates' defense is abysmal right now and it cost them a game Saturday. It probably should have cost them Friday's game, as well. For a team that is playing short-handed on offense, springing a defensive leak is a worst case scenario.
Five of the Yankees 11 runs were unearned in the loss. The Pirates have committed 16 errors and allowed 15 unearned runs already this season. For comparison's sake, in the whole month of April, the Pirates only allowed seven unearned runs in 2013, 2014, 2015 and nine in 2016.
Entering Saturday the Pirates Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) was minus-five. To be competitive, this roster will absolutely need to find a way to be a well-above average defensive team.
The outfield continues to be an emerging area of concern. Gregory Polanco hasn't looked comfortable in left. Andrew McCutchen's played an inspired few games in center, but one wonders how that will shake out in the long run. Saturday, he and Polanco miscommunicated on a fly ball that dropped between them in the eighth. It extended an already mess of an inning and ended up costing two more runs. Right field is under repair.
"I called for it," McCutchen said of the play in the eighth. "He told me he couldn't see out there because the sun was right on him. I had the feeling that I'd have to get everything that was hit over there. He said he couldn't hear me call it until the last second. So, I kind of prepared for a collusion and pulled up and that created the error. I know that's on me. I have to catch the ball."
For the second night in a row, a misplay in right field cost the Pirates. Friday night Jose Osuna bobbled a ball off the wall that led to an unearned run. Saturday, John Jaso completely misread a looping liner to shallow right. He took a few steps back, looked lost, stumbled, ran forward and tried to make a sliding catch. The ball dropped in front and then bounced past him for a double and scored two runs.
Hurdle protected Jaso after the game, saying it is "picking a scab" to focus on that one mistake.
Of course, the emerging outfield trouble partly lies on the shoulders of Starling Marte. The ripple effect of his absence is obvious in the hole it's created in right field. However, it also is affecting Polanco's development in left, as he now has to learn how to work with a new center fielder on plays hit into the gap. For the next 70-plus games it's unlikely the Pirates will field an above league average outfield defensive alignment.
Finally, Adam Frazier made the most consequential error of the game, bumbling a routine ground ball that should have ended the eighth. Instead, the miscue extended the inning and a batter later Chris Carter buried one deep into the left-center field bleachers that put the Yankees up for good 8-5. It was Frazier's third error of the season.
"The problematic play tonight was at second base," Hurdle said. "If we put the play away that's three outs and we're off the field. It didn't happen. ... The overall defense has got to tighten up."
Jameson Taillon was not as sharp as we've seen him this season, but he found a way to hold the Yankees scoreless until the sixth. Then, Starlin Castro took the first pitch he saw and absolutely drilled it into the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer. Suddenly, the game was tied and Taillon was dented. Aaron Judge followed with a loud double over McCutchen's head for a double, and the right-hander's evening was over.
Even though he was struggling with his command, Taillon carried a no-hitter deep into the fifth inning and it probably should have gone deeper. But Austin Romine received the benefit of the doubt on a checked swing with two strikes, and then three pitches later hit sharp liner that hit the ground and skipped past Jordy Mercer.
"To be quite frank with you, it was [first pitch] strike one and then it was a fight," Hurdle said, pointing to the high number of three-ball counts. "It was kind of weird because [he was throwing] a no-hitter for an extended period of time. However, the sink to the fastball was inconsistent. He went out and battled, man. He really battled. He poured everything he had into it. ... It just wasn't the stuff we've seen from him for a lot of different times."
Taillon lasted 5.2 innings, allowed five hits and four runs. He struck out four and walked three. It was his first non-quality start of the season.
"I think I left some fat pitches," Taillon said. "I was in-and-out of command a little bit. Not the best I've thrown. But overall I felt pretty good."
Chris Stewart entered as defensive replacement for Francisco Cervelli in the ninth.
"I think something was going on," Hurdle said. "I'm not quite sure what right now."
Cervelli briefly appeared in the clubhouse after the game, but did not end up speaking with reporters.
On the bright side
McCutchen quickly tired of reporters' questions about the error in center field.
"I had a good day at the plate, though," the Pirates center fielder said. "I feel pretty good about that, if you want to talk about that. You've asked me three questions about the same play. I felt good at the plate. I felt real good at the plate."
McCutchen went 1-for-2, with a home run, a sacrifice fly and two walks. He is batting .317 since April 11th, with three home runs.