Locke's last start

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Ten random thoughts on the Pirates, who fell out of first place last night when they lost to St. Louis, 5-0, their third straight defeat:

• Sad to say, but this start should be the last of the season for Jeff Locke. He allowed three runs in five innings and was in trouble most of his time on the mound with four walks and a hit batsman. Locke has given the Pirates one good start in his past eight -- ERA 6.34 -- and must be replaced.

• No doubt full panic mode has set in with some, if not many, but based on recent history no one is going to run away with the NL Central and the Pirates -- one-half game out of first place -- are very much in contention.

• Yes, the Pirates have lost three straight. But prior to that, they won five of seven. St. Louis has won two in a row, but before that, lost six of eight. The Reds have won three straight, including two over Los Angeles, but were 4-6 in their previous 10. The Pirates are not the only NL Central contender with problems.

• The case against Locke: Leadoff walk in the first; two walks in the second; leadoff double to St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright in the third; leadoff walk in the fourth; leadoff hit batsman in the fifth. If that pattern were something new, Locke might deserve more time. But it's a repeated pattern, which means Locke's next start should be no sooner than April of 2014.

• It was not encouraging for Jason Grilli that he could not finish the eighth inning and was charged with the final St. Louis run.

• Jose Tabata has done remarkably well in recent weeks, but the Pirates need Starling Marte to be at full strength.

• It's not a stretch to say the Pirates top starter -- Charlie Morton -- pitches this afternoon. The recent highly inconsistent pitching of Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett have elevated Morton to that status. Although Morton certainly does not have that designation by default, he's been the team's best pitcher for close to a month.

• Much has been made of the Pirates recent difficult schedule, which still includes one today at St. Louis and three at Texas. What should not be overlooked is that after Texas, their next eight games are against the Chicago Cubs, 60-81, and the San Diego Padres, 63-77.

• Pedro Alvarez, who was hitless in three at bats with two strikeouts, is in contention to win a National League triple crown. He currently leads in home runs, strikeouts and errors.

• Candidates to replace Locke: Jeanmar Gomez, Kris Johnson, Brandom Cumpton, Jameson Taillon. My vote goes to Gomez, who has the best ERA of any Pirates starter this season. It's a no-brainer, but that was lost on Clint Hurdle the last time they replaced Locke.



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