The news of their demise probably isn't exaggerated, but it is postponed for the moment. After springing leaks all over the place last week, for the second game in a row the Pirates put together an almost flawless performance. They've now won four of their last five and moved back within five games of .500.
There was good news everywhere you looked on this splendidly midsummer-like Thursday afternoon. Josh Bell continued to show he can be a special offensive force by driving a first inning home run. There was a nifty defensive sixth inning, in which Gift Ngeope provided a serenely efficient turn on a 5-4-3 double play and Andrew McCutchen followed by chasing down a fly ball deep in the right center field gap. Patient plate appearances in the third created three walks and contributed to a two-run inning. There was a three-run barrage in the sixth, keyed by Adam Frazier's two-run double to center. Finally, there were flashes of dominance from Tyler Glasnow in the odd innings (1st, 3rd, and 5th) and John Jaso continued to show indications of rounding back into form.
"I think this is a good sign for us, going against a tough squad over there, competing against really good pitchers and bringing our ‘A' game and coming to play." Bell said.
Is it possible things are turning around?
"Things are looking good, so I'll just go with that," Jaso said cautiously.
Offense beginning to show up
Once again today, the Pirates offense was connected top-to-bottom. With the exception of Jose Osuna, every player who registered an at bat reached base at least once. On the afternoon, the Pirates collected 13 hits and drew five walks.
Frazier was the catalyst at the top of the lineup, collecting three hits, scoring two runs and adding four RBIs. McCutchen hit the ball hard four times and ended with two hits. Stewart pitched-in two hits and two runs, Ngoepe walked and scored a run, and even Glasnow knocked a single.
"We had a nice rhythm and rhyme at the plate today," Clint Hurdle said. "We knew that [Tanner] Roark had struggled a little with some pitch efficiency, so we just stayed after it and kept hunting the ball and hunting strikes. It payed off for us in the long run."
Over the last 10 days, Jaso's accumulated a .426 OPB and played a surer right field. The best thing that could happen to this Pirates offense, which currently ranks 27th in OPS, is for him and McCutchen to make up ground on their career numbers.
"Things have been feeling pretty good," Jaso said. "Just going out there and preparing like usual everyday. The thing about this game is you keep playing because you never know. ... It turns around quick, both ways, for the worse and for the better."
With bases loaded in the third, Jaso worked back from an 1-2 count to draw a RBI walk. His home run in the fifth was a high arching parabola that landed deep behind the center field wall.
"When you hit a homer, it gets everyone's attention," Hurdle said of his right fielder's mini-resurgance. "Nobody talked about him last night after three walks. He's done it before. Again, you know, it wasn't a good start. At this level a lot of people quit on you when you don't get off to a good start [to the season]. ... You believe in the back of [baseball] card and the resume and it starts to show some support. John's showing up well here. It's nice little stretch."
Glasnow looked sharp in three of the five innings he lasted, facing the minimum in the first, third and fifth. Along the way he struck out Bryce Harper twice and collected six strikeouts on the afternoon.
Things got a little sideways in the third in the fifth when his four-seamer elevated. In those two innings he allowed three walks, a single, a double, a home run and four runs scored. Two of the four runs were the result of his errant throw to first after fielding a bunt.
"I thought there were some improvements," Hurdle said. "The sequences were cleaner and sharper. The biggest gaffe today was not fielding his position. What I did like is after the fourth and throwing the ball away, a very efficient fifth. He was able to reset and go back out there and make some pitches."
So, the Pirates now prepare to host the Phillies, followed by a trip to Atlanta. Standing right ahead of them is an opportunity make up some ground on .500 and renew some optimism for the season.
"Hopefully we can build on this," Frazier said. "Offense got it going pretty good today. And the pitching did a really good job the past couple days of shutting them down, and I think that is just as or more impressive -- to shutdown a lineup like. So hopefully they can keep rolling just as well as offense."