Chad Kuhl’s strong outing, RBIs carry Pirates past Tigers
For the second night in a row, one of the Pirates’ youngest pitchers contained a Detroit Tigers lineup and a former Triple Crown star.
Right-hander Chad Kuhl allowed three runs on five hits in Tuesday night’s 6-3 victory at PNC Park, a day after teammate Trevor Williams helped one-hit the interleague rival. Kuhl is 24, and Williams is 25, yet consecutive wins by the young back-of-the-rotation starters earned the Pirates their fifth victory in six games.
Kuhl also contributed a two-run single during the Pirates’ three-run fourth.
Kuhl (5-7) walked one and struck out six, including a strikeout of Miguel Cabrera in the fifth inning. The outing was the second consecutive quality start for Kuhl, who threw seven scoreless in his last outing. He held the Tigers scoreless through five innings Tuesday, allowing just two singles, before allowing three runs in the sixth.
A.J. Schugel, George Kontos and Felipe Rivero combined for three scoreless innings in relief. Rivero bounced back from a 41-pitch outing Sunday to earn his 10th save.
This was the second of a four-game interleague series that switches to Detroit’s Comerica Park for the final two. The Pirates play Wednesday and Thursday in Detroit before heading to Toronto for three more against the American League.
Tigers starter Matthew Boyd retired the first six batters in order. But in the third, the Pirates took a 1-0 lead when Starling Marte dropped a two-out single in right that scored Jordy Mercer, who reached with a leadoff double. The RBI was Marte’s first in 12 games.
They scored three more in the fourth, the first on a leadoff, solo homer by Andrew McCutchen to center. The home run was McCutchen’s 23rd. The Pirates then loaded the bases with singles by David Freese and Sean Rodriguez and a walk by Francisco Cervelli. With two outs, Kuhl dropped a two-run single over shortstop for the first RBIs of his career. The Pirates led 4-0.
Boyd quickly was pulled in the fifth after allowing consecutive no-out singles by Josh Harrison, McCutchen and Freese, which scored Harrison. McCutchen scored on a Mercer sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 6-0.
Boyd, who was charged with six runs on nine hits, allowed eight of the last 11 batters he faced to reach base. He struck out five and walked one in four innings.
In the sixth, the Tigers scored three runs on three hits. An RBI double by right fielder Jim Adduci scored Jeimer Candelario.
A wild pitch by Kuhl scored Ian Kinsler, and a sacrifice fly scored Adduci. Candelario, promoted Monday from Triple-A, was a prospect acquired from the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
Thanks to Mr. Smizik for sharing this from Joe Sheehan. Some insight on the NL Central and what will prevent these teams from seeing any postseason action.
Brewers (preseason #24, projected .426, actual .518, playoff odds 16.4%). I give Brewers’ GM David Stearns a lot of credit for resisting the pressure to invest excessively in the 2017 roster. The ’17 Brewers don’t yet have the core of a championship team, and have stayed over .500 and in contention based on the depth of the roster. As we kicked around back in May, Stearns and his staff found gems in all kind of random places. They have squeezed out good value from waiver bait like Jesus Aguilar and Eric Sogard and Matt Garza. Stearns added on the cheap where he could, bolstering a middling pen with Anthony Swarzak and Jeremy Jeffress, but kept his powder dry, not selling off his top prospects to help fend off a team, the Cubs, who he must recognize is better.
The word “process” has been turned into a joke, first through Dayton Moore in Kansas City and then Sam Hinkie in Philadelphia. Process matters, though, and Stearns’s process here is solid. He’s not trying to build the Orioles, an 82-win team that might run well in a couple of seasons and get into the tournament; he’s trying to build the Cubs or the Dodgers, a 95-win team whose floor is a playoff berth and whose ceiling is a run at history. You don’t do that by burning the coin of the realm — productive players in the first four years of their career — for marginal upgrades at the deadline. Maybe, once you’re at that level, you can toss an Eloy Jimenez or a Willie Calhoun overboard. Now, though, Stearns has to keep his focus on the long term, has to retain Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz and Josh Hader, all projected parts of that 95-win team, maybe as soon as 2018.
It will turn out that the Brewers were a better team than projected because of all that good work done at the back of the roster. As the season bleeds on, though, we’re seeing that the offense, so incredible in the first half, was over its skis for most of that time. The Brewers have a .226/.295/.366 line in the second half, scoring 3.3 runs per game. Eric Thames, who is down to 0.9 bWAR on the season, is hitting .231/.318/.359 since the break (.211/.327/.416 in 79 games since that crazy series in Cincinnati in April). Sogard is at .061/.139/.061, and his partner-in-crime at second base Jonathan Villar is at .192/.208/.250. The Brewers are 9-14 since the break and, while still just 1 1/2 games out of first in the NL Central, look more like a team that will slip under .500 than one that will push the Cubs.
We’re about to cover five straight AL teams. I’ve made my picks as far as which I think will make the postseason, but don’t put too much weight on that. The whole AL wild-card chase, from the Yankees down through the Rangers, is a mess.
Cardinals (preseason #11, projected .531, actual .500, playoff odds 21.0%). Like the Orioles, the Cardinals got back to .500 last night, and may yet finish above .500, which would make the tenth straight season and 16th time this century they have done so. I’ve been in a minor war online with Cardinals fans who seem to think their team is DOOMED, a position that seems unreasonable given that the Cardinals haven’t been bad for more than two years at a time since Eisenhower was president. The Cardinals won 100 games two years ago. They won the World Series in 2011. They’ve made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. Maybe it’s OK that they have an off year, where “off year” means being .500 and 3 1/2 games out of first place in August. Maybe they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.
With that said, if you’re a Cardinals fan, maybe the off year is a good thing. I’m no fan of Mike Matheny, largely for his poor performance within games. More and more, though, I wonder if the things he’s supposed to be good at, the leader-of-man items, are also a weakness. The Cardinals sent down Stephen Piscotty yesterday. Piscotty is just the latest Cardinals prospect to struggle in the St. Louis, to see his playing time become erratic and then nonexistent before a demotion. I’ve written extensively about Kolten Wong’s path over the past few years, and you can also look at Randal Grichuk here as well. Matheny just doesn’t seem to be able to manage young players; no, let me rephrase that. Matheny just doesn’t seem to be able to manage young players when those young players aren’t producing at maximum value. He’s fine with Wong now, of course, with that .383 OBP. He was cool with Piscotty when Piscotty was earning a long-term contract with his bat. Paul DeJong is slugging .556, so Matheny has no memory of Aledmys Diaz.
This is a pattern, and it’s one more costly than reliever roulette or bad bunting. You can suffer a bad tactical manager if he’s getting the job done off the field. It’s not at all clear that the Cardinals have such a manager.
Pirates (preseason #10, projected .537, actual .491, playoff odds 3.0%). It seems fair to me to give the Pirates a pass for 2017. Their third baseman couldn’t get into the country. Their #2 starter got cancer. Their left fielder and best player got suspended for half a season. That the Pirates are within a couple games of .500 and 4 1/2 games out of first place strikes me as an achievement in context of all that went wrong outside the normal course of business.
There are some real concerns, though. The players who should be the Pirates’ core have stagnated considerable. Gerrit Cole now looks like a mid-rotation innings guy rather than an ace. Gregory Polanco has a .254/.318/.406 line through nearly 1900 career PA, and he went backwards at 25. Tyler Glasnow was a mess and had to be sent back to the minors after allowing 12 homers in 54 1/3 innings. The successes on the 2017 roster were almost all players 30 and older: Andrew McCutchen’s amazing revival, Ivan Nova’s strong season, Juan Nicasio’s development into a good reliever. The Venn diagram of “young” and “positive” is basically Felipe Rivero. (I’m open to discussing Trevor Williams, although I see both him and Chad Kuhl as fifth starters at best.)
It’s been a while since the Pirates were the game’s great story. We’re seven years into this stretch, which began with strong half-seasons in 2011 and 2012, and the Pirates have won three playoff games. They’re not the cute small-market success any more, and unlike the Royals, they don’t have a World Series title to show for their run. There’s a real chance they’re about to be lapped by the Brewers next year, making a difficult competitive environment that much more so.
It’s not over for the Pirates, but they head into this winter probably needing to make a choice between winning with McCutchen and Cole and Marte, or using them to bring in players who will win next to Taillon and Glasnow and Mitch Keller.