PITTSBURGH -- Kept quiet by Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals' revamped bullpen, the Pirates didn't have many chances to score in Sunday's 2-1 loss to St. Louis. Still, the weekend felt like a missed opportunity.Pittsburgh lost the three-game series to St. Louis, a direct competitor in the standings, and has
PITTSBURGH -- Kept quiet by Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals' revamped bullpen, the Pirates didn't have many chances to score in Sunday's 2-1 loss to St. Louis. Still, the weekend felt like a missed opportunity.
Pittsburgh lost the three-game series to St. Louis, a direct competitor in the standings, and has now dropped six of 10 games since reeling off 11 straight wins to bounce back into the postseason race. The Pirates provided further reason for optimism on Tuesday, acquiring Chris Archer and Keone Kela, but they are 7 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central and five games out of the second NL Wild Card spot.
Now, they'll head out west for a critical road trip against the Rockies, Giants and Twins. They're behind Colorado in the Wild Card standings, and they're barely holding off San Francisco. Every game matters this time of year, but this nine-game trip feels particularly important.
"I just love the fact that we're in the hunt. Time to go," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We would've loved to have won more games here. We did not. Now, it's time to go put a better package together on the road."
Pitching wasn't the problem for Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. Right-hander Trevor Williams, coming off three straight scoreless starts, extended his shutout streak to 21 1/3 innings before allowing a pair of runs in the fifth inning.
With one out in the fifth, Matt Carpenter belted a 1-2 fastball from Williams to right field for his 29th home run of the season. Williams was aiming to throw the four-seamer up in the zone, but it headed south and Carpenter crushed his third homer of the series.
"He's hot. He's one of the best hitters in the NL right now," Williams said. "I've seen him for two years now, and he keeps getting tougher and tougher. He's a great ballplayer."
That was the Cardinals' only extra-base hit of the day, but they scratched across another run on three singles in the fifth. Williams was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth, but the Pirates' bullpen allowed only one hit and a walk the rest of the way.
"It's tough, but they're the games that are fun to pitch in. It's really one slip-up and who blinks first, and that's what it came down to today," Williams said. "I blinked first, and Carpenter hit it over the wall. Unfortunately for us, we didn't come out on the winning side."
The Pirates were in position to cut into their deficit in the fifth. Adam Frazier led off the inning with a double to center, and Jordy Mercer lined a one-out single to left, putting runners on the corners. But Jordan Luplow, pinch-hitting for Williams, swung on a first-pitch slider and grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Frazier mashed a home run to right field in the seventh inning off lefty reliever Chasen Shreve, slicing the Cardinals' lead in half. After Mercer walked and Elias Diaz knocked a pinch-hit single to right, Corey Dickerson grounded into a forceout at second base to end the threat.
"It was unfortunate that that one blink cost us the game," Williams said, "But that's kind of how baseball is sometimes."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Man down:David Freese has been one of the Pirates' hottest hitters lately, batting .371 with a 1.072 OPS over his last 22 games. He's also been one of their best bench bats this season, hitting .292 with a .419 on-base percentage as a pinch-hitter. Freese was out of the lineup on Sunday, but he was also unavailable off the bench due to a right forearm contusion he sustained while playing first base on Friday night.
Freese played through the injury on Saturday, but said it "flared up" and "just started burning" on Saturday night, so he didn't even attempt to swing a bat on Sunday. His absence became evident as the game progressed. Luplow pinch-hit in the fifth with the tying run on base. Josh Harrison pinch-hit for third baseman Colin Moran in the seventh, and Diaz entered the game to catch with Francisco Cervelli moving to first base. Finally, Sean Rodriguez pinch-hit with two outs and nobody on in the ninth.
"I think it's just a good day [off], because I was just constantly feeling it, unfortunately," Freese said. "Just had to take the day. … We'll see tomorrow. Get back in there, maybe."
Frazier's home run off Shreve was his first Major League homer against a left-hander, as his first 11 came against right-handed pitchers. Frazier's last homer off a lefty took place in 2015, when he was playing for Double-A Altoona. Frazier is hitting .407/.429/.630 since his most recent callup.
"He's really focused at the plate, pretty much staying within the strike zone," Hurdle said. "He's hit some spin. He's hit some hard. He's hit some soft. … He's given us an offensive shot in the arm, for sure."
HE SAID IT
"I've faced him four times already. I tried to get him before the series. I saw him running around, and I tried to get him and say, 'I'm tired of pitching against you, man. There's five other pitchers on the team that you could pitch against.' He's a good ballplayer. He's thrown really well for them. If I voted for Rookie of the Year, I'd vote for him. But I don't get a vote." -- Williams, on dueling Flaherty for the fourth time this season
Right-hander Joe Musgrove will start for the Pirates on Monday as they open a three-game series with the Rockies at Coors Field at 8:40 p.m. ET. Musgrove took the loss last time out, despite allowing just one earned run over seven innings against the Mets. Lefty Kyle Freeland will start for the Rockies.
Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.