Bob Smizik: Pirates bear no resemblance to contender

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Ten thoughts on the 4-2 loss to the Mets last night and Pirates baseball in general:

• The season is approaching the one-third point and the Pirates (23-28) have given little indication they will be a contender come September. The starting pitching continues to be a problem and that is compounded by the fact their NL Central rivals have been exceptional in this area. Going into last night’s games, St. Louis starters were first in the National League in ERA, Cincinnati starters were fourth, and Milwaukee starters fifth. Pirates starters were 14th. Those three teams are in the top four in WHIP and BAA. The Pirates are 13th and 12th.

• Three hours and 43 minutes for a nine-inning game in which six runs are scored is utterly ridiculous. MLB needs to do something about length of games and a good place to start is all the conferences on the mound.

• Starter Edinson Volquez was wild and not particularly impressive. He gave up two runs and four hits in five innings while walking five and striking out six. He threw 106 pitches. But he was signed as a back-of-the-rotation or fifth starter. He kept the Pirates in the game. He has a 4.30 ERA. He’s not close to being the team's primary problem.

• The notion that Pedro Alvarez, who did not start last night but hit into a double play as a pinch-hitter, would improve by moving from the fourth to the sixth spot in the lineup is not thick with logic. For one, Alvarez has probably been batting fourth most of his life and should be used to it. For another, there can be just as much pressure batting sixth as their is fourth.

• Sunday is June 1. The Pirates’ record the past three Junes is 50-30, a .625 percentage, which is 101 wins over a full season.

READ MORE: Bullpen fails Pirates in 4-2 loss to Mets

• Go figure! In 2013, Jordy Mercer led the National League in batting average and OPS while facing left-handed pitching. Those numbers were .410 (32-for-78) and 1.152. Mercer was benched in favor of Clint Barmes last night, presumably because Barmes was 5-for-14 lifetime against left-handed starter Jon Niese, against whom Mercer was 1-for-3. It was at least the second time this season Manager Clint Hurdle benched Mercer against the rare lefty starter the Pirates see, which is an inexplicable strategy.

• If Hurdle is looking for reasons to put Jason Grilli, who came off the disabled list last week, back into the closer’s role, Grilli is giving them to him. He earned an unexpected save in his first appearance and, after giving up a leadoff single last night, struck out the side.

• Justin Wilson is turning into the anti-LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy). Going into the game, left-handed hitters were batting .385 (10-for-26) with an .885 OPS against. Right-handers were batting .208 (10-for-47) with a .613 OPS. Wilson was brought into the game to face right-handed hitting David Wright, who led the National League with a .458 batting average against lefties. Wilson retired Wright on an infield grounder.

• Josh Harrison is 0-for-9 and 4 for his last 21. It will be interesting to see how long a leash Hurdle will give Harrison, who has not held up well in extended playing time in the past. Although Hurdle’s options -- Jose Tabata and Travis Snider -- are not exactly enticing.

• For those critical of Andrew McCutchen’s performance in the clutch, this is his batting line with runners in scoring position: .361/.490/.528 -- 1.018.


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