'One play away': Bucs looking to break streak of close losses

June 29th, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Over the course of a season, there will be times when teams get all the breaks, while there will be other times when they get none of the breaks. The Pirates, who lost to the Nationals, 3-1, on Tuesday at Nationals Park, find themselves firmly in the latter camp.

Pittsburgh has now lost 17 of its past 22 games. Of those 17 losses, 14 have been decided by two runs or fewer. The Pirates have lost all five games of their current road trip by two runs or fewer, and they are staring at the possibility of returning to PNC Park without a win.

“We’re one play away,” said manager Derek Shelton. “Right now, the people that we’re playing are making that play. We have to create our own breaks.”

On Tuesday night, the “one play” came in the bottom of the eighth inning. Yadiel Hernandez came off the bench and hit a go-ahead two-run double over the outstretched glove of Diego Castillo -- a double that had a 75 percent catch probability. When asked if Castillo, who has started seven games in right field, could’ve done anything differently, Shelton believed the rookie played the ball as well as possible.

“He got close to it,” Shelton said. “The ball was hit over his head. He got a read on it, he just didn’t catch it."

Added Castillo: “Off the bat, it sounded well. He hit it hard. I was playing in. I gave 100 percent to catch it, but baseball is like that.”

For Pittsburgh, baseball has, indeed, been like that, especially on this road trip. Over these past five days, the Pirates have had opportunities. No game has been out of reach. If one or two things went differently, they could have five wins on this road trip rather than five losses; that’s how close they’ve been.

“At the end of the day, end of the season, we're going to turn back and everything's gonna even itself out,” said reliever , who allowed the go-ahead two-run double. “If we keep playing hard, if we keep playing the right way, the ball is going to start doing what we need it to do and we're going to win some games.”

There has been an element of misfortune during this stretch, but as Shelton mentioned, the Pirates must generate their own luck. The first inning was an example of Pittsburgh falling short in this department.

Six pitches into the ballgame, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds had set the table. Hayes smoked Patrick Corbin’s first pitch of the game 110.9 mph up the middle for a single, while Reynolds drew a five-pitch walk. The beef of Pittsburgh’s order would have an opportunity to plate a run or two. The inning ended with a zero in the run column.

Two innings later, Hayes and Reynolds set the table again in similar fashion, putting runners on first and second with one out. And again, the Pirates ended up with nothing. They’d finish the night without a hit in seven at-bats with a runner in scoring position. , who allowed just one run across six innings, would be left with a no-decision. There have been bad breaks, but execution helps mitigate those wounds.

“We have to capitalize,” Shelton said. “When we get the first two guys on in an inning, we have to push a run across. We just have to have more consistent at-bats, and we didn’t do that.”

The Pirates have, on occasion, proven themselves capable of winning these tough, close games. They did so on their West Coast road trip in late May against the Dodgers and Padres. In the midst of their roughest skid of the season, they’ll need to figure out how to dig themselves out of the rut.

“We’re really close,” Quintana said. “Right now, it’s really tough to lose and lose, especially a couple games where we played really well. It’s tough. We need to keep rolling.”