Keep The Jolly Roger Flying

Raise it for the fourth time in a row and the 10th time in the last 12 games. The Pittsburgh Pirates are on a roll that even the big lefty, Cole Hamels, couldn’t slow down. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t even a minor speed bump on their path to destruction.

Over the last 14 games, Pittsburgh has batted .303 and averaged 5.42 runs per game. Those numbers are good for second best in baseball. Their combined ERA of 3.10 ranks fifth in baseball. What is even more impressive is the power that this team has been displaying. When everybody was in panic mode due to the losses of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, all Pittsburgh has done is average more home runs per game than they did last season. In 2015, they totaled 140 homers, while this year they’ve hit 47 which puts them on pace to hit 162. When you factor in the fact that they just got their main power source in Jung Ho Kang back a few weeks ago, its clear that power is not going to be a difficult task this year.

Tonight displayed just how powerful this team is capable of being as they hit four home runs by Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco. Yes, the excellence that is our entire outfield hit a homer in this matchup. Marte hit his 415 foot solo blast in the second inning deep in straight away center to give the Buccos an early 1-0 lead. The way Hamels was pitching early in tonight’s game, it looked like that may be all we get off the lefty. Fortunately for the Pirates, he unraveled in the 5th inning. Sean Rodriguez drew a leadoff walk while Jordy Mercer got on by error. McCutchen singled in Rodriguez with the next at bat to make the score 2-0 with no outs. David Freese immediately scored Mercer on a single to left giving Pittsburgh a three run lead now.

Still with no outs made and two men on base, Jung Ho came to bat and belted a 3 run opposite field shot that increased the lead to 6 runs. With Jeff Banister deciding to stay with Hamels still, Josh Harrison produced a single to continue the rally. Hamel’s first out finally came when he struck out Gregory Polanco, but then he immediately allowed another baserunner on by walking Sean Rodriguez before finally getting pulled. This was Rodriguez’s second walk of the inning and the first Pirate to do that since Jason Kendall did it on 9/25/2001. The last and final out was made when Mercer flew out to right.

Cole Hamels left the game lasting just 4.2 innings. He gave up six runs (five earned), eight hits, two walks, and struck out five. As mentioned, his day was going pretty strong but became completely ineffective come the 5th inning. Tonight’s game increased his season ERA to 3.34. It was mentioned in the preview that Hamels has been allowing career high rates in walks and homers, and tonight’s game made no exception. His FIP is now at a 4.84 and its possible his regression is finally starting to set in.

On the contrary, Jon Niese pitched a gem tonight and has now tallied off four straight quality starts. After his bought start to the season and Neil Walker’s incredible start to his season, fans were getting very uneasy about this trade that was made this past winter. Niece is clearly settling in now as he has posted a 2.50 ERA in those four starts. His season ERA dropped from a 5.94 to a 4.42 in that time as well. By no means shall we expect to see a 2.50 ERA going forward, but Im confident that Niese is right on track to end the season at around a 3.60 ERA which is what the NSN had predicted heading into this season. Niece’s final line was 6 innings pitched, one earned run, seven hits, one walk, and two strikeouts.

What was also impressive today was seeing the bullpen hold it together. Newcomer, Wilfredo Boscan, entered the game in relief of Niese and pitched two strong scoreless innings. Since his call up from Indy, Boscan has now pitched eight innings with a 2.25 ERA. His FIP puts him right on track with those numbers, which makes you wonder if Pittsburgh has found its replacement for Arquimedes Caminero‘s spot in the rotation? It is a very small sample size, but his 2.48 ERA in 40 innings while in Indianapolis suggest that it’s very sustainable.

Tomorrow, the Pirates will play the Rangers at 7:15. Yu Darvish will make his return to the Majors after a couple injury filled seasons to face Juan Nicasio.

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