After a disappointing series loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to take advantage of scoring chances. With a tough schedule ahead, they may not get many for the next few weeks.

It was supposed to be an easy series for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Instead of taking two of three or sweeping the Cincinnati Reds, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost all three games. Today, the losing streak hit four when the Pirates fell to the Boston Red Sox in a makeup game from last week. Worst of all, the Pirates only scored eight runs over these four games.

As we said earlier this week in Sunday’s Wake-Up Call, the Reds series was the last “easy” series before the current stretch of 13 games against the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs (two series), St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees.

While the struggles of Tyler Glasnow dominated discussion of the early week struggles, the Pirates’ inability to capitalize offensively cannot be understated. In the Reds series, the Pirates went 0-24 with runners in scoring position. As of Thursday, the Pirates rank second-to-last in MLB with eight runners left on base per game.

Seeing Red

Monday, Pittsburgh loaded up the bases in the second and third innings, yet only scored one run. It’s not like anyone stepped up and got a base hit to get that run one. Reds lefty Brandon Finnegan walked Francisco Cervelli when the bases were already loaded.

Some of Monday’s problems with scoring with the bases loaded can be blamed on manager Clint Hurdle. Though he was clearly thinking about using as few pitchers as possible, there was no reason that Wade LeBlanc should have come to bat with the bases loaded — twice.

That said, LeBlanc wasn’t the only hitter with a chance to drive in runs. The Pirates finished Monday’s game 0-9 with RISP and left eight men on base. All eight starting position players stranded at least two runners except for Francisco Cervelli, who went 0-2 with two walks.

Though the final score was 7-1, it’s not as if the Reds were mashing everything that Pirates pitchers threw. Cincinnati scored two runs in the first on RBI walks and finished 1-10 with RISP.

Pittsburgh knocked Finnegan out in the third inning, but only scored one run off him on one hit despite Finnegan walking five batters. Conversely, Glasnow also walked five batters, but the Reds scored five runs off him because they also collected four hits against the Pirates’ top prospect.

Struggles with Rookies

Things didn’t get any better on Tuesday and Wednesday despite getting impressive starting pitching. Jameson Taillon only allowed two runs over six innings, but Juan Nicasio and Trevor Williams combined to allow four runs on Tuesday.

Even with the struggles of Nicasio and Williams, it’s not as if the Pirates had done enough to deserve to be tied with the Reds entering the seventh inning. Facing Reds right-hander Rookie Davis, who was making only his second major-league start, the Pirates stranded five runners and went 0-3 with RISP. Again, the Pirates had their opportunities but failed to cash in.

The only run that the Pirates scored against Davis was via a double steal. While their base-running efforts are admirable, the Pirates’ failure to deliver in the clutch with their bats is cause for concern.

The Pirates similarly struggled against another rookie on Wednesday, as Amir Garrett only allowed two runs over 6.2 innings. Ivan Nova allowed three earned runs over six innings, but it was not enough for the anemic Pittsburgh offense that finished 0-5 with RISP.

The last time that a runner in scoring position scored on a base hit was via Starling Marte’s walk-off home run on Saturday.  

All in all, the Reds bullpen threw 14.1 innings without allowing any earned runs. In the five previous seasons, Cincinnati’s bullpen ERA (5.09) was second-worst in MLB last season and has never been below 3.96 in the last four seasons.

Thursday, the Pirates led until the eighth inning, but ultimately lost, 4-3, to the Red Sox. Plenty of blame can be placed on Daniel Hudson and Juan Nicasio for blowing the lead, but the Pirates cannot expect to make the playoffs by only scoring three runs a game.

Baby Steps

Pittsburgh took a step forward on Thursday by going 3-7 with RISP, yet none of those hits actually produced any runs. The last time that a runner in scoring position scored on a base hit was via Starling Marte’s walk-off home run on Saturday.

The Pirates need their starters to step up. Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Jordy Mercer and Francisco Cervelli are all hitting .250 or less. It is early, but it’s alarming that they all are hitting so low.

Starting pitching and the bullpen will be inconsistent all season long, that was a given coming into the season. That said, the Pirates must be able to capitalize on situational hitting opportunities. The Cubs are led by a stellar rotation that could easily win all six games against the Pirates in the next two weeks. Entering Thursday’s afternoon game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cubs lead MLB with a 2.64 ERA, having only given up 14 earned runs.
The offense shouldn’t have to win every game, but it’s got to be better for the Pirates to survive April.

Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Joel Norman

Joel Norman is a journalism major at West Virginia University. In addition to writing for Pirates Breakdown, Joel covers WVU sports for the Daily Athenaeum and writes game recaps and features for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Joel also does play-by-play broadcasts of WVU hockey and baseball for WWVU-FM in Morgantown.