PITTSBURGH -- Joe Musgrove made a strong seven-inning start, but right-hander Zack Wheeler struck out seven over six scoreless innings and the Pirates managed only six hits in a 1-0 loss to the Mets on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. The Bucs have still won 15 of their last 19
PITTSBURGH -- Joe Musgrove made a strong seven-inning start, but right-hander Zack Wheeler struck out seven over six scoreless innings and the Pirates managed only six hits in a 1-0 loss to the Mets on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. The Bucs have still won 15 of their last 19 games, putting them in the postseason race after an up-and-down-and-back-up four months.
Now comes a season-defining stretch for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh is in position to add prior to Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, and general manager Neal Huntington said again on Sunday that he would "love to add" to a club four games out of the second National League Wild Card spot.
The Pirates' recent surge up the standings has instilled confidence in their clubhouse that they have enough pieces to contend without making any major moves.
"We know what we have here, and you see the run we went on the last two weeks," said Musgrove, who allowed only one run over seven innings on Sunday. "We know we're capable of putting together good games and playing good baseball."
But the Bucs have seen the Cubs add a starter (Cole Hamels) and a reliever (Jesse Chavez). They've watched the Brewers add a slugger (Mike Moustakas) and an experienced reliever (Joakim Soria). The Pirates still want to surpass both clubs over the next two months. And when the Astros acquired Justin Verlander last August, Musgrove saw first-hand the ideal impact of a new acquisition.
"The energy and chemistry in the clubhouse completely changed on a dime. Everything turned," Musgrove said. "We trust the guys in the locker room right now. I don't think it's going to be the end of the world if we don't get anybody. We would like to have another guy to run with us, but if it doesn't come to it, we're confident in what we have here."
Three hours after Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Pirates will begin a critical stretch of their schedule. They'll host the Cubs for two games at PNC Park, facing Jonathan Lester and the recently acquired Hamels. In fact, 28 of their next 30 games -- a stretch that carries them into September -- will take place against teams currently in the postseason race.
"It's good. It's a good time to go at them right now. We're playing the best ball we have all year," Musgrove said. "Things are banging on all cylinders. The chemistry's really good in here. The energy's high. I don't think there's a better time to face them than right now."
The Pirates' pitching and defense was clicking on Sunday, with Musgrove recording 11 groundouts as he completed seven innings for the fourth time in his last five starts. The Mets' only run came on an RBI double by Wheeler, a potential trade candidate who continued a dominant stretch on the mound.
"He's been pitching as well as he's pitched at the Major League level," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Wheeler. "That was a well-pitched game for him."
Meanwhile, the Pirates' injuries may have caught up to them on Sunday. Playing without first baseman Josh Bell or left fielder Corey Dickerson, and with center fielder Starling Marte having returned quickly from a badly bruised left hand, Pittsburgh got three hits from Gregory Polanco and three from the rest of the lineup. The Bucs began Sunday with the Majors' highest-scoring offense since the All-Star break, but they'll have to navigate the next week without Dickerson or Bell.
"For sure, we've got to keep things going, so it's a next-man-up-type thing," third baseman Colin Moran said. "We'll just try to bounce back and get back at it the next game."
Will the Pirates' lineup, bench, rotation or bullpen look different by that point? Stay tuned.
"There's a really good group of players down there that have played really well for the first 40-some games and really well for the last 20- or 30-some games," Huntington said. "We would love to add to that group, and we'll continue to look to do so when it makes sense."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Dueling pitchers who rake: Musgrove carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, but the Mets broke it up with a pair of infield singles. Austin Jackson led off the inning with a single to shortstop Sean Rodriguez, but he was erased by Kevin Plawecki's double-play grounder. Rodriguez then made another sharp play at short, but Luis Guillorme still reached safely.
Up came Wheeler, batting with two outs in a scoreless tie. The lefty-hitting starter pulled Musgrove's 1-1 fastball to right field for a double, driving in New York's only run of the day.
"I think he probably feels really good right now, being able to kind of win the game himself with a big double there," Musgrove said. "It was a well-pitched game on both ends."
The last time the Mets beat the Pirates, 1-0, with the only run scoring on an RBI by the pitcher was on Sept. 12, 1969. It actually happened twice that day, as the Mets swept a doubleheader in which the only runs were driven in by starters Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell.
HE SAID IT
"We try to learn. We try to learn all the time from what went well, what didn't go well, what could we have done differently, what I should have done differently. We'll continue to do that. We want to respect that we're in a playoff hunt. And what can we do to enhance our chances this year, while at the same time trying to enhance our chances for the future as well?"-- Huntington, on approaching the non-waiver Trade Deadline
After Monday's off-day and Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Pirates will return to PNC Park to host the Cubs at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday. Right-hander Jameson Taillon, who has a 3.09 ERA over his last 11 starts, will line up against Lester as Pittsburgh hopes to make up some ground in the NL Central race.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.