The Pittsburgh Pirates led the Atlanta Braves 9-0 after two innings Tuesday night, but that lead was blown.
Ultimately the Pirates prevailed 12-9, but there were not many style points that came in this win.
As a fan of late night television, perhaps it is best to look at things from a Jimmy Fallon perspective and try to balance good from bad. This time there are no punchlines.
Twenty-one hits- It was a performance that proved to be a season-high on the offensive end of things.
In total, each of the starting nine reached base – yes this includes starting pitcher Juan Nicasio who recorded an RBI single in the first inning.
Everyone saw the ball well against Braves starter Aaron Blair who lasted 1.1 innings.
This was a Braves team which mentally was in a tough spot firing manager Fredi Gonzalez after Monday, the first of a four-game series.
The firing was heavily discussed, though the timing and nature of the dismissal was not.
Somehow the Braves had to turn the page with Brian Snitker, who was managing Triple-A Gwinnett.
It was a difficult situation for the Braves, but it was up to the Pirates offense to further complicate things, which they did.
It’s the Braves – It’s hard to gauge how much of this success was because the Pirates executed a properly scouted game plan versus how much the opponent made its own bed and had to live with the results.
The Braves came into this game with the worst record in baseball making this a series where the Pirates could maybe experiment more or at the very least not have to stress as much with each decision being made.
As if the Braves did not face long enough odds, they were distracted by Gonzalez’s dismissal. They were starting over and are facing one of the top National League teams.
Concentration certainly may have been lacking and Braves pitching was erratic all night.
Anyone who completely credits the Pirates have not watched the Braves this season.
This is a win, but it is hard to look at Tuesday’s offense and feel the whole story is being told.
Seven-run first inning – Talk about establishing an identity.
Nine batters reached base to open the game and when that happens, hits become contagious.
John Jaso went 3-for-3 at the plate in this game and was already halfway to a cycle in one inning with a single and a double.
When you are facing an offense which has underperformed as much as the Braves, it’s tough to dig out of that kind of hole.
That is unless you are facing the Pirates bullpen.
Nicasio/Ryan Vogelsong/Arquimedes Caminero
Wow, where to begin on this one. From the beginning, the bullpen has been the weak link on this team and Tuesday was no different.
Frankly though the bullpen was set up. Nicasio needed to find a way to throw another inning so the bullpen is not in this kind of a mess.
For as great as Nicasio’s opening two innings were, the third was severely lacking. He departed after five innings and allowed five runs, three of which were earned.
Vogelsong was the human version of a piñata. He did not miss any bats as the Braves put together five hits in him in 1.2 innings.
Vogelsong had issues throughout his appearance and loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning. He limited the damage to one run.
An inning later, Vogelsong got two outs but allowed a run to score on a Reid Brignac RBI double ending his outing.
With Vogelsong out, it was Caminero who got the call.
Caminero has had his battles all season long and on a 2-2 count allowed a two-run home run to Mallex Smith. All of a sudden, the Pirates lead was down to two runs and Caminero was given a quick hold.
None of these three pitchers were up to snuff. Pitches were not executed and the Braves could not be fooled.
If this bullpen continues to struggle then things need to change.
Andrew McCutchen/Gregory Polanco/Alen Hanson
With three Pirates listed in the last cons section, it would only be fair to turn that around.
McCutchen continued his May rebuild with a 3-for-5 day at the plate.
While McCutchen has had a good month, he came into this game on an 0-for-12 hitless streak so this was needed.
Tuesday provided a first for Polanco who went 3-for-5 at the plate. All three hits were doubles making this the first game in his career with three extra-base hits.
Currently Polanco has a four-game hitting streak, which is the longest active streak on the team and is also batting .371 in his last nine home games.
Lastly no one forgets their first ever major league hit, and Hanson got his when he pinch-hit for Nicasio in the fifth inning.
Hanson’s time with the Pirates will be limited as Starling Marte will return shortly from paternity leave, but he has the opportunity to learn from his teammates and appears to be doing so.
Making Tony Watson/Mark Melancon pitch
When you lead 9-0 as a high-leverage reliever, you can exhale. You are not needed for the night.
With Nicasio and the relievers before them failing to meet expectations, that changed.
You cannot waste these pitchers having to pitch games such as these because significant leads cannot be held.
The Pirates likely will be without Melancon’s services Wednesday.
Managing a bullpen can certainly be difficult, but the usual task of getting the ball to your closer changes when you lead 9-0. Then the goal is to give your closer a night off.
On Monday things got too close for comfort and occurred again one day later.
Sure a win is a win, but these last two games are certainly causes for concern.
Francisco Liriano (3-2, 4.99 ERA) takes on Julio Tehran (0-4, 3.17 ERA). Liriano is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four career starts against the Braves.
Photo credit: @Pirates