Last night was an incredible game and an incredible confidence booster for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a month of June where they went 9-19, the Pirates have steam rolled through July and last night’s victory over the Cubs places them just 6.5 games out of the division with one game left until the break. With rookie 1B, Josh Bell, hitting a grand slam in the mix, it was only fitting that Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial firework display was setting off during this game as the Pirates won over the Cubs to a score of 12-6.
After coming out victorious and charging Jake Arrieta with 6 earned runs the night before, the Pirates were able to peg Jon Lester for 5 last night and get to the bullpen early. As mentioned in the pregame report yesterday, Lester has had a fantastic season and has allowed more then three earned runs just twice. With rookie pitcher Chad Kuhl taking the mound, you knew it was going to be an uphill battle.
However, this was not the case. The game was going back and forth virtually every inning as there were a total of four ties and four lead changes throughout the night. Chad Kuhl started off the game for the Pirates, but his start did not go so well for him. Only lasting 2.1 innings, Kuhl gave up 4 earned runs on seven hits while striking out just one and walking one. Most of his damage was done as he was not able to keep his pitches down and locate them. As a matter of fact, he seemed quite lucky to only give up the 4 runs that he did.
Hurdle seemed to know that even though this was just July, there seemed to be big implications on this series. Quite to the contrary of Hurdle’s typical managing, he pulled Kuhl early on in the game to prevent if from getting out of hand. Juan Nicasio would enter the game in relief in just the 3rd inning.
Jon Lester also pitched a dud as he gave up 5 earned runs in just 3 innings pitched. Lester was pitching a gem of a season as he carried a 2.03 ERA through June. Since then, he has given up a total of 13 earned runs in just 4.1 innings raising his ERA to a now 3.01. For as well as he was pitching this season, he was prone to the long ball, and tonight was no different. Pittsburgh tagged him with two dingers, by Andrew McCutchen and Sean Rodriguez, which brings his season total to 16. He would leave the game with three strikeouts while allowing four hits and three walks.
The story of tonights game was the Pirates offense. As a team it combined for nine hits and six walks which was enough to score a total of 12 runs. For a team that was told it had no power by losing Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, the Pirates also drilled four home runs last night as well. The team currently has 86 home runs on the season, which averages to .977 home runs per game. Last year they totaled 140 homers, averaging .864 home runs per game. As you can see, the Pirates are actually producing more power without the likes of those two.
Andrew McCutchen had another solid night at the plate as he belted a 409 foot homer over the left field bleachers and also provided a two RBI single in the 4th. After all of the talks about his inability to hit and how its possible that its a thumb injury slowing him down, Cutch has quietly started to heat up. Since June 16, Cutch is batting .284 with four doubles, four home runs, and 11 RBI’s. Though the 2o strikeouts in that time frame compared to the six walks he has drawn is still pretty alarming, it is possible that we are starting to see the return of at least better than your average every day outfielder, Andrew McCutchen. Just having this shell of McCutchen could prove to be extremely valuable towards the fourth consecutive playoff berth.
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The big story of the night, however, came from rookie first baseman, Josh Bell. Friday night, Bell got the call for his first major league at bat and successfully hit the first pitch he saw from Arrieta into right center for a base hit. Last night saw the stakes even higher for the 23 year old rookie as bases were loaded with one out and the Pirates were holding onto just a 7-5 lead. With a 1-1 count, Bell took an 84 MPH pitch from Adam Warren over the right field bleachers for a 419 foot grand slam that gave the Pirates an 11-6 lead over the rival Cubs.
Pittsburgh has now officially won 12 of their last 15 games and looks to close in on its 13th win today to close out the unofficial first half of the season. Though the Pirates are still 6.5 game back, they do sit just 1.5 game back in the Wild Card standings. What also seemed to be out of the realm was a division title. With a victory today, the Pirates can find themselves just 5.5 games out of first. To put this in perspective, the Pirates were 14 games out of first on June 23 which was the day before they started this winning stretch.