I can’t say that I saw a whole lot of this one (Lost and playoff hockey just make for a rough baseball-watching combination, let’s be honest), but I think it’s safe that we can file it away under “when your starter keeps you in the game, good things happen.” In this case, Paul Maholm didn’t really have his best stuff tonight, but he did manage to keep the Cubs off the scoreboard except for two solo homers and since the Pirates also hit two homers but with a guy on base for one of them, they get the W.
The bullpen (Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan, and Octavio Dotel in this case) held down the lead and even though Dotel was all over the place from what I saw in the ninth (17 pitches, 8 strikes), they didn’t allow any hits and combined for only two walks over three innings. This bullpen is part of the reason for this team’s schizophrenic profile; in games that they enter in which the Pirates are down by any significant margin, they tend to throw gasoline on the fire and turn those games into mega-blowouts. In games like tonight, pitchers like Hanrahan and Donnelly (before he went on the DL this afternoon with a strained oblique, at least) have done a good job holding the leads. Try to figure this out: Joel Hanrahan has an ERA of 8.64, but he’s appeared in four games (out of his 10 total) that the Pirates have won by two runs or less and in them, he’s allowed one earned run in three innings, has been credited with three holds and has no blown saves (and I understand these are bad stats, but in this case they do illustrate that he’s done his job in close games, which is all I’m trying to say).
I actually have a good amount of faith in Hanrahan, Donnelly (again, when healthy), and even Dotel and Lopez to get outs in important situations (assuming they’re being used right) while Meek has been a revelation and Taschner and Carrasco have done well in their long-man roles, so my gut feeling is that the bullpen is much better than some of their huge ERAs indicate. That helps explain why the Pirates are winning one-run games at such a great pace (they’re now 6-1 in one-run games) despite their ugly pitching numbers. I have no way to account for that, of course, other than saying that maybe the relievers get bored during blowouts and that’s why they suck in them. No team can win six of every seven one-run games all season long, but it’s definitely true that some teams (the Angels, for example, went 83-58 in one-run games from 2007-2009) have shown the ability to outperform expectations in that category regularly with good bullpens, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Pirates are due to drop a huge number of one-run games. Then again, it’s also possible that the Pirates have gotten lucky that most of their reliever’s crappy outings haven’t come at the wrong time, and at some point we’re going to start giving up leads left and right.