The decision of manager Clint Hurdle to entrust a crucial series finale start against the Cincinnati Reds to struggling Jeff Locke will long be debated. Hurdle had his reasons. But they looked pretty flimsy as Locke allowed five first-inning runs today and the Pirates were on their way to a 11-3 loss in their final regular-season home game of 2013.
The key question is this: Will there be another home game at PNC Park this year?
The Pirates are tied for second place with the Reds at 89-67. They are 2 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis, which plays Sunday night at Milwaukee.
First place is looking like a reach with six games remaining. It's possible, but not probable. It's still the goal but the reality is this: Which team, the Pirates or Reds, will finish second and secure the home field for the wild-card playoff game?
The Pirates starting pitching, absent Locke, has been sharp recently and that's a big plus. The rotation the rest of the way looks like this:
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Chicago: Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. After an off day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Cincinnati: A.J. Burnett, Morton and Cole.
The Reds will play three against the Mets before hosting the Pirates.
It's too close to call but you have to like the Pirates chances of beating out the Reds with the way Morton, Cole, Liriano and Burnett have pitched recently.
There will be a ton of analysis on what happened to Locke. It was fully expected his performance would decline after his All-Star first half. But few expected such a steep fall. At any rate, he pitched himself off the postseason roster with his performance today. He'll go to spring training penciled into the starting rotation but on a short leash.
Locke's inning went like this: Ground out, single, walk, walk, double, homer. The walks have consistently hurt him. He got away with it early in the season. He has not in the second half.
Jeanmar Gomez, the choice of many, including myself, to get the start, gave up two runs in the second. Brandon Cumpton, the choice of some, pitched three scoreless innings and Stolmy Pimentel two as the Pirates moved within striking distance by scoring once in the third and twice in the fifth.
But the Reds scored three times in the eighth off Vin Mazzaro and Jared Hughes to erase all doubt.
A season from which little was expected has produced beyond the wildest expectations. The Pirates have a chance to finish first and are going to the playoffs. Not bad.
First Published September 22, 2013 9:00 PM