With season nearly finished, Pirates finally finding a groove

Tribune Content Agency

CLEVELAND — It wasn’t long ago that the finish line to the 2020 season felt excruciatingly far away for the Pirates, the two-month sprint switched back into a marathon because things had gone so poorly.

Now, it looks like the Pirates are energized and would rather keep playing after finally getting the offense and defense to match the exemplary starting pitching they’ve enjoyed over the past dozen games.

In fact, after Saturday’s 8-0 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field, it’s interesting to think what would happen to the Pirates if the season was extended another month or so.

Would things even out? Would the Pirates be more competitive? Manager Derek Shelton thinks so.

“I think we would have been a different team to watch,” Shelton said. “We’re seeing a lot of encouraging signs. And when you see more encouraging signs, you wish you had more games to see how this would play out.

“I’m not saying by any stretch of the imagination that we would be in the playoffs or win the World Series, but I think our record would indicate that we’re getting better.”

And that, really, is what this should be about at this point.

Nobody is saying that winning four of five changes the fact that the Pirates will, in all likelihood, own the first pick in the 2021 MLB draft. They’ve come by that mark honestly. They’ve struggled and deserve criticism for not performing well enough in certain areas.

But give them credit, too: They’ve shown lately that there might be something worth feeling good about over the offseason and looking ahead to 2021, and much of that was on display Saturday.

Rookie phenom Ke’Bryan Hayes had five hits, the Pirates (19-40) smashed three home runs, and Joe Musgrove delivered yet another stellar start for this staff, helping the Pirates to win for just the third time in 19 tries against the American League Central this season.

They also snapped a five-game losing streak against Cleveland and improved to 6-21 on the road this season.

Musgrove was especially impressive, specifically with the number of swings and misses he was able to generate. The right-hander induced 52 swings from Indians hitters, 20 of them whiffs (38%).

Over seven scoreless, Musgrove allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out 10. He actually hasn’t allowed a run over his past two starts, totaling 13 innings and 21 strikeouts.

All of the starters have been excellent of late.

Over the past 12 games dating back to Sept. 16, Pirates starting pitchers have a 1.46 ERA that leads Major League Baseball. They’ve struck out 75 in 74 innings and have allowed just three home runs, limiting opponents to one or no runs in 10 of those 12. Over the past eight, Pirates starters have a 0.72 ERA.

“I’m very forward thinking of what this rotation could look like and what we’re going to do moving forward,” Shelton said. “And honestly, it gives me a ton of excitement, it gives our group a ton of excitement, and hopefully it gives Pirates fans a lot of excitement.”

Even the basic stuff has been better lately. The Pirates did not make an error again Saturday, which marks a season-high 59 consecutive innings of clean baseball. They have just one in their past eight games overall.

Jose Osuna, Bryan Reynolds and Colin Moran hit the Pirates’ homers in this one.

Osuna, who also threw out a runner at second base from left field, poked a high fastball out to right, while Reynolds also went the other way with one, a two-run shot.

Moran’s blast was really impressive, the left-hander demolishing a breaking ball down and in for his team-high 10th. The ball landed in the second deck in right, measuring 425 feet.

The three-homer outburst came against Cleveland starter Aaron Civale, who shut down the Pirates earlier this season when he tossed a complete game (one earned run, six strikeouts) against them on Aug. 19 at PNC Park.

It marked the first time this season that Civale allowed three homers in a game and the first time he did not complete at least six innings.

No doubt Musgrove was happy about the outburst against Civale. He came into Saturday’s game having received a grand total of four runs of support in his first seven starts but doubled that total in start No. 8.

Hayes, meanwhile, extended his hitting streak to seven games. The rookie third baseman is now hitting .370 on the season and seems to be getting better; three of Hayes’ five hits Saturday were doubles. The last Pirates rookie to have five hits in five plate appearances was Neil Walker in 2010.


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