Pirates in first 40 games: Win close, lose big

Bucs hit the quarter pole over .500, despite negative run differential

May 16th, 2019

PHOENIX -- With one-quarter of the 2019 regular season in the books, a pattern has emerged for the Pirates: Win close, lose big. That’s how they have found themselves two games over .500 (21-19) despite allowing 47 more runs than they’ve scored this season.

Wednesday was another “lose big” day for the Pirates, another rough day for their run differential. Right-hander

walked four batters and allowed seven runs (six earned) over 3 2/3 innings in his return from the injured list, and the D-backs dealt the Bucs an 11-1 defeat at Chase Field.

The good news for the Pirates is they won’t see the D-backs again this season. The bad news is they finished 1-6 against Arizona while being outscored by 35 runs (52-17).

It was the seventh time this season the Bucs have lost by at least six runs. On the flip side, their largest margin of victory came in their first win of the season, a 5-0 triumph over the Reds on March 31. Despite all the things working against them -- their negative run differential, struggles against winning teams and long list of injuries, for instance -- they still have a winning record after 40 games.

“I think it’s the fight in the guys. You don’t want to keep doing this all year long, though. Nobody does,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “However, that’s where we’re at right now. And the right now is, this one’s over. And our focus will be on tomorrow.”

When the Bucs have won, they’ve generally done so in narrow fashion. Fifteen of their 21 victories have been by one or two runs. Games like Sunday and Tuesday, when Pittsburgh prevailed without having to use closer , have been the exception to the rule.

With nearly every win a nail-biter and more than one-third of their losses lopsided, it’s no wonder the Pirates’ run differential suggests they shouldn’t own a winning record.

Entering play on Wednesday, only three teams in the Majors -- the Bucs, the Indians and the Padres -- had a winning record despite a negative run differential.

So, unfortunately, the Pirates are familiar with how to move forward following losses like this. They certainly will need Archer to do the same on an individual level.

Archer immediately stumbled in his first game action since April 26, when he allowed six runs over four innings at Dodger Stadium before going on the injured list due to right thumb inflammation. He walked three of Arizona’s first four hitters and threw only four of his first 18 pitches for strikes.

Archer said he felt great physically and that his thumb wasn’t an issue. After throwing a simulated game in St. Louis last weekend, he said he felt healthy and ready to compete. He wouldn’t chalk up his lack of command to rust, either.

“I just didn’t have control, dude. Over the course of a long season, it happens,” Archer said. “I’ve had worse games in my career. I already know I can bounce back and my next one’s going to be better.”

Ketel Marte capitalized with an RBI single to right, then the Bucs couldn’t take advantage of an easy way out of the jam. Christian Walker hit a potential double-play grounder to Colin Moran, but Moran dropped the ball and extended the inning. One run scored, then Nick Ahmed drove in another with a sacrifice fly to right field.

“I think the key with Archer is, when he’s not commanding the baseball, you’ve got to let him pitch. And you’ve got to force him to throw the ball over the plate,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “That’s a very hard thing to do when you’re a hitter, because you get into a tentative mindset, and then he’s going to blow 95 [mph] right by you. So I thought we had a really good approach that allowed us to see balls and strikes, and it equated to a very, very good offensive day.”

One inning into the game, Archer had thrown 33 pitches -- including only 13 strikes -- and the Pirates were in a three-run hole. Archer settled down after that and retired 10 straight batters, five of them by strikeout.

But the D-backs rallied and chased him with two outs in the fourth. John Ryan Murphy doubled to left, then Archer walked pitcher Zack Greinke and uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Murphy to reach third. Both baserunners scored on Jarrod Dyson’s single to right, then Eduardo Escobar ended Archer’s day by hammering a 2-2 slider over the right-field fence.

“Try to say even-keeled. Just stay really present,” said Archer, who has now lost his last three starts. “Today just wasn’t my day, man. Like I said, I had no command, no control. It was a battle. They exploited my lack of control.”

Montana DuRapau finished the fourth inning. Recently acquired right-hander Chris Stratton allowed four runs but helped save the bullpen for Pittsburgh’s upcoming four-game series in San Diego by working the final four innings.

“I love Stratton’s effort,” Hurdle said. “Street cred with the club, pitched innings, no walks, seven strikeouts.”