Familiar issues sink Pirates in D-backs sweep

July 22nd, 2021

PHOENIX -- A trip to Arizona ended in disappointing fashion on Wednesday afternoon, as the Pirates were swept by a D-backs club with the worst record in the Majors.

As in all three games, the Bucs had opportunities to change the 6-4 loss into a series-ending win. However, Max Kranick’s three-plus-inning start allowed the D-backs to rack up four runs, and once the Pirates rallied in the seventh to tie the game, Pavin Smith and Daulton Varsho hit back-to-back homers off Duane Underwood Jr.

Here are three takeaways as the Pirates head into an off-day after a tough three-game showing in Phoenix.

Quality hits
Pittsburgh’s offense extended its streak of 10 or more hits in a game to seven contests on Wednesday, yet it has lost the last four games in that stretch.

The Pirates had a great opportunity to build a lead in the seventh inning, when they loaded the bases for a second time after first baseman John Nogowski drew an RBI walk. Catcher Jacob Stallings, who already had two hits and was a glove’s length away from homering in his first at-bat, then hit into a double play.

That outcome has become a trend over the past few games. The Pirates had 34 hits in this series against the D-backs, yet they hit 6-for-33 (.182) with runners in scoring position.

“I thought we had good at-bats overall,” Stallings said. “One thing I can’t do there is ground into a double play, [but] I still did. It’s just baseball, but I think we’re having good at-bats overall.”

Bullpen loses steam
The bullpen was handed either a lead or a tie game in each of the past two games, yet they were unable to hold on and give the offense a chance to add on.

On Tuesday night, Austin Davis and Clay Holmes imploded in the seventh inning after Tyler Anderson held the D-backs to three runs and left with the lead. As soon as the Pirates rallied to tie the game in the top of the seventh inning on Wednesday, Underwood gave up back-to-back solo homers to Smith and Varsho to begin the bottom of the frame.

“He left the changeup up to Smith, then the fastball right down the middle to Varsho,” manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s just a matter of we’ve got to get the ball down, especially the changeup.”

Underwood is one of a few highly used Pirates relievers who have seen time on the injured list in the past month-plus. Stallings said one of the things the bullpen is working through is getting those guys back into the swing of things to make the consistency stick.

“They’ve been so good for us all year. It’s bound to happen at some point,” Stallings said of the recent struggles. “We just have to keep them in rhythm and help them as best we can.”

Western woes
The Pirates have been swept in series of three games or more eight times this season, and three have come since the beginning of June against National League West clubs.

The Dodgers took three games from the Bucs at PNC Park early in a season-high 10-game losing streak in the first half of June. At the end of the month, Pittsburgh was swept -- and nearly no-hit -- by the Rockies in Colorado, then the D-backs hit the 30-win mark by winning three games this week.

“I don’t think the team necessarily makes it any more or less frustrating for me, personally, but it’s frustrating to be swept,” Stallings said.

They’ll have to flush the losses quickly, though. After a day off Thursday, they take on the NL West-leading Giants.

“To come out here and to not capitalize on that momentum we had going, yeah, it’s extremely frustrating,” Shelton said. “We have to take the off-day and regroup, because we’re getting ready to play one of the best teams in baseball.”