The Pirates didn’t get off to the start they hoped for on Thursday dropping a 5-3 loss on the road to the Reds. Jose Iglesias opened the game’s scoring with a double to bring home Jose Peraza in the second inning. It would take the Pirates until the 6th inning to get on the board when a Jung Ho Kang single brought in Josh Bell and Francisco Cervelli, thanks to some very aggressive base coaching by Joey Cora.
However, the Reds would hit a pair of home runs in the bottom of the 7th to take a 5-2 lead and ultimately end the game. The Pirates were able to tack on one more run in the 8th and threatened with the bases loaded in the 9th, but it wouldn’t be enough.
The Pirates have a few things that must change after Thursday’s game. Let’s take a look at a few takeaways from Game 1 of 162:
Pirates Will Need Healthy Lineup to Have a Prayer: The Pirates lineup was tough to look at on paper entering today’s game and that was before Starling Marte’s late scratch with a migraine headache.
Even with a legitimate ace like Jameson Taillon on the mound, the Pirates are going to need to produce runs. Runs won’t come easy for this group without a viable power threat, so while it’s nice to manufacture runs like they did on Thursday, they’re going to need Marte, Gregory Polanco and Lonnie Chisenhall healthy to have an offense able to consistently support its strong group of pitchers.
This isn’t a surprise though. Fans should have expected this when the Pirates’ front office didn’t do much of anything to shore up an offense that needed a jolt. When healthy, the offense could be capable enough, but they have no margin for error whatsoever.
Infield Defense Must Improve: I could shorten this by saying Adam Frazier and Josh Bell’s infield defense must improve, but let’s take this as an overall warning instead. If the Pirates are going to rely on pitching to win games, simple outs must be converted into outs. The Pirates technically only had one error on Thursday, but it should have been two as Adam Frazier got lucky with a Cincinnati scorekeeper giving the Reds an extra hit later in the game.
Neither Frazier or Bell are known for their defense, but this isn’t about asking them to make spectacular plays. Miscommunications on rundowns and the failure to make simple plays could very well be the difference between a win and a loss for a Pirates team that is going to struggle to put runs on the board.
Clint Hurdle Must Trust His Bullpen: Jose Peraza’s home run to start the 7th inning didn’t technically end the game, but it certainly changed the momentum. While Jameson Taillon threw a great game overall, it’s hard to argue that Hurdle either should have gone to his bullpen after the 6th inning or pulled Taillon the second Peraza’s ball left the yard.
Taillon only threw 83 pitches, but he was getting too much of the plate all day. The Pirates’ bullpen is a clear strength on this team, and you build that stable of arms out there so that you can lean on them to get you 3-4 innings if need be.
Now, Richard Rodriguez did eventually come in with two runners on and give up a no-doubter to Derek Dietrich, but who knows how that would have gone had Rodriguez been able to enter in a low-leverage situation.
Kyle Crick, Keone Kela, Rodriguez and Felipe Vasquez all proved themselves as more than capable last season. Nate Burdi looked like another quality addition to the group today after striking out all three batters he faced.
Hurdle must supplement his very strong pitching staff with timely pitching changes to take full advantage of one of the best bullpen groups in the league.
BUT, This Team Battles: 12 pitches. Seven foul balls. That was Corey Dickerson’s final at-bat, and though it resulted in an out, it exemplifies a lot of what makes this team fun despite the less-than-ideal results.
This is nothing new and is perhaps the most enjoyable part of this team the last few seasons. Playoff runs or not, this team fights hard. They may not have 15 hits, but they’ll generate ugly runs.
Luis Castillo could largely dominate them for 5.2 innings, but they find a way to get to him and force David Bell to make a (probably unadvised) pitching change. This team doesn’t play pretty all the time, but there’s never a doubt that they’ll fight to the bitter end of every game, which isn’t something that can be said for some Pirates teams of old.
They’re going to need that attitude if they want to keep pace in the loaded NL Central this season. While I question some things about this team on paper, their ability to do that isn’t something I ever doubt.