Bucs conquer Kluber, rain to win 10th straight

July 23rd, 2018

CLEVELAND -- Neither persistent rain nor the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner could stop the Pirates' winning streak on Monday night.
Pittsburgh put up seven runs in four innings against Indians ace , an early offensive onslaught slowed only by the night's three rain delays. With right-hander shutting down Cleveland's high-powered offense, the Bucs cruised to a 7-0, rain-shortened six-inning win at Progressive Field. The Pirates have won 10 games in a row, the club's longest winning streak since a 10-game run in 2004.

"It's fun. We're having a blast right now. We're playing good baseball," Williams said. "What did the Indians have last year, 22 [wins] in a row? Which is bananas. We're not even halfway there. But we're going to come to the yard [Tuesday], and we look forward to showing up and expecting to win."

That's all the Pirates have done lately. They have won 12 of their last 13 games, pulling to three games above .500 and into the National League Wild Card race with a week to go before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. All but officially written off two weeks ago, the Bucs are four games out of the second Wild Card spot and now third in the NL Central, seven games behind the division-leading Cubs.
What's led to their recent surge? The Pirates showed the formula again on Monday night: Starting pitching, contributions from everyone in the lineup and an outfield that ranks among the Majors' best.

"I don't think it was a secret when we went through a rough stretch that we weren't putting it all together," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "This stretch, you've seen good pitching, good hitting, good defense, timely hitting -- a lot of different ways to win ballgames, and that's what teams do when you go on runs like this."
It started with Williams. The Indians entered the night leading the Majors with 118 runs in July. But Williams silenced a lineup laden with lefties with a mix of fastballs and changeups, allowing only four hits and two walks. He found trouble only in his final inning, but he left the bases loaded by striking out and inducing an inning-ending groundout from .

"You want to outduel an ace, and when I saw that I was going to get matched up with Kluber, it's maybe once every three years, once every six years, that happens," Williams said. "I woke up today especially excited to come to the yard and showcase what I have, and pitch up to his ability."
Williams ended the night with his first professional complete game -- even if he joked he was "not counting it" because it was only six innings. The Pirates have pitched 11 shutouts this season, tied with the Cubs for the most in the Majors, and Williams has started five of them. Over the past 13 games, Pittsburgh's starters have posted a 2.46 ERA.
"Good pitching beats good hitting," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We had a guy go out and pitch better than their pitcher did today."

Back in the lineup after sitting out all weekend with a sore left hamstring, Harrison immediately made an impact. He was hitting just .174 with a .457 OPS in July, but after a couple of Cleveland miscues in the field, Harrison crushed a three-run homer to left off Kluber in the second inning to put the Pirates on the board.
"I was able to take the break and just refresh, come back in, and I was glad to be able to get back out there," Harrison said.
Harrison was the first of four Pirates in a row to reach safely against Kluber, who allowed a season-high nine hits. hit a double to left, Corey Dickerson walked, and extended his hitting streak to 16 games by slicing an RBI single to right field.

Harrison, Mercer and Pittsburgh's outfielders were in the middle of the Bucs' three-run fourth inning, too. Harrison started it with a one-out single, then Mercer smacked a single to right. Dickerson hit a grounder that left the Pirates with two outs and runners on the corners. Marte drove in Harrison with a single to center, and Polanco laced a two-run triple to left-center field.

The Pirates' outfield trio finished 4-for-9 with four RBIs, a walk and no strikeouts on the night. As a group, Pittsburgh's outfield entered Monday's series opener with the NL's highest OPS (.836) and slugging percentage (.500) while ranking second in average (.282) and home runs (53). Led by their outfielders atop the order, the Pirates have outscored opponents 64-20 during their winning streak.
"I'm thankful that we're swinging the bat really well right now. I don't want to face the Pirates," Williams said. "I don't want to face us right now. Our bats were at home against the Brewers, and our bats were in Cincinnati. I'm glad they showed up in Cleveland as well."
Maximizing mistakes: Cleveland had a chance to stop Pittsburgh's second-inning rally before it started. With one out and on first base, Josh Bell hit a grounder that second baseman couldn't cleanly field to turn a double play. Bell reached first safely, bringing up with two outs. Freese hit a high pop-up over the mound, but Alonso couldn't reel it in.
"[If] the ball's not dropped, I don't know how that inning goes. You don't even know how the rest of the game goes," Hurdle said. "It's not pointing to one thing, but you don't know. You have to be opportunistic when doors are opened and plays aren't made as well. We've been able to do some of those things."
Up came Harrison with runners on the corners. Kluber got ahead of him in the count, 0-2, but Harrison felt the two swings he took helped him to "knock off the cobwebs." Harrison hammered Kluber's fourth pitch deep into the left-field stands for his first homer since June 16.

"It's almost like he had three days down. Fresh legs," Hurdle said. "He was happy to be back."
The Pirates' current winning streak is tied for the second-longest stretch in the Majors this season. The Red Sox won 10 consecutive games earlier this month, and the Astros won 12 in a row in June. Only two NL teams won at least 10 straight games last season: the D-backs (13) and the Dodgers (who had winning streaks of 10 and 11 games).
The Pirates have homered in a season-high eight consecutive games, launching 19 round-trippers during that streak.
"We've been chasing rain this entire road trip. It really didn't look good today. The radar looked like it was just following us the entire way. … That first rain delay [during the game], I thought that was going to be it. I'm thankful it wasn't. I'm thankful the second rain delay was. It was a complete game." -- Williams, on the weather
"I think if you ask anybody in this clubhouse, I don't think we care about who's on the mound, who's on the other side. We don't look for validation from anybody except us." -- Harrison, on whether beating Kluber and the Indians validates the Pirates' recent success
The Pirates will send right-hander Joe Musgrove to the mound on Tuesday to make his first second-half start against the Indians at Progressive Field at 7:10 p.m. ET. Musgrove cruised into the eighth inning in his last start but allowed five runs on seven hits and exited after 7 2/3 innings. Right-hander Shane Bieber will start for Cleveland.