When it rains, it pours.
The Pittsburgh Pirates gave up three more home runs on Thursday afternoon, and the offense couldn’t keep up. The St. Louis Cardinals got a good showing from their starter and bullpen to pull out a 6-3 victory and sweep the four-game series at PNC Park. The Bucs have now lost five in a row, and the Red Birds have tied the Chicago Cubs for first place in the NL Central.
Right-hander Joe Musgrove pumped the strike zone right off the bat, but the Cardinals offense was ready. The six hitters that came to the plate in the top of the first went double, line out, RBI single, single, sacrifice fly, and line out to end the frame. Musgrove blinked, and all of a sudden he was down 2-0 after a 23-pitch inning.
The second and third innings went much better for Big Joe, but it certainly wasn’t due to a change in approach. He threw seven pitches in the second and nine pitches in the third. The Pirates came to bat in the bottom of the third, and Musgrove bunted over Jacob Stallings after his leadoff single. Adam Frazier singled to put runners at the corners, and rookie Bryan Reynolds came through with a sacrifice fly to pull the Pirates within one. After a Marte groundout, we headed to the fourth with the Bucs down 2-1.
Things felt OK as Musgrove took the mound in the top of the fourth inning to throw just his 40th pitch of the afternoon, but three pitches later Paul Goldschmidt hit a towering solo home run to left center field. That homer marked five games in a row (going back to the series in St. Louis last week) in which Goldy homered off a Pirates pitcher. It’s safe to say he’s heating up. After one out, legendary Pirates killer Kolten Wong followed his lead with a solo shot that just snuck inside the right field foul pole. Yairo Munoz hit a two-out double in a similar spot as Wong, and Musgrove finally retired pitcher Miles Mikolas to stop the bleeding at 4-1 in favor of the Red Birds.
I wish I could say things got better in the fifth inning, but I cannot. After a nice diving stop by Josh Bell, he threw wide of Musgrove to allow Tommy Edman to reach on an error. Sometimes you get the feeling that those type of things will come back to hurt, and it didn’t take long in this instance. Dexter Fowler followed with a high fly ball that just kept carrying and eventually cleared the center field wall to make it 6-1 Cardinals.
Mikokas was cruising until the bottom of the 6th inning when the Pirates finally made him sweat a bit. Reynolds singled on a line drive and Marte stayed red hot by hitting an RBI double to left center field. Bell moved him over with a grounder to the second baseman (playing in shallow right field), and Colin Moran did his job too, with an RBI groundout to first to make it 6-3. Corey Dickerson extended the inning briefly with a single to left, but Kevin Newman lined out to left center to end the sixth for the Buccos.
Things stayed quiet after that, as lefty Andrew Miller got three outs in the eighth inning and one in the ninth, and righty closer Carlos Martinez came on for a two-out save. That fifth loss in a row drops the Pirates’ record to 10 games below .500 (46-56). If you would’ve told me that this team would start the second half 2-11 after the momentum that was built up heading into the All-Star Break, I would’ve laughed at you. Now, I’m honestly surprised they were able to win those two games!
Next up the Buccos will head to Big Apple to take on the New York Mets in a three-game weekend series. It should allow both teams one last chance to showcase their trade chips before trying to sell them at the Trade Deadline early next week. Friday night’s game is scheduled for 7:10 pm Eastern, and right-handed pitcher Dario Agrazal will be on the mound for Pittsburgh. Right-hander Zack Wheeler (one of those aforementioned trade chips) will be taking the ball for the Mets. He’s coming off a brief IL stint and is expected to have his pitch count limited.