The Pittsburgh Pirates had their way with the Philadelphia Phillies in a 15-2 routing Thursday night that secured a series split.
Those 15 runs are a season-high and place the Pirates at 71-74 on the season with 17 regular-season games remaining.
Here are my three takeaways from the game:
1. Offense finally shows up
The Pirates offense has disappointed for most, if not all, of the second half of the 2016 season, but Thursday night felt as though a “help wanted” ad was finally answered. The game felt like a season highlights video crunched into one game.
The Pirates had 15 runs on 13 hits and only one starting position player, Matt Joyce, didn’t get a hit.
It’s no secret Andrew McCutchen hasn’t had a season up to his usual standards. Some believe he might be hiding an injury or is just putting too much pressure on himself. That wasn’t the case Thursday when he hit two home runs and had three RBIs.
McCutchen’s fourth inning home run came off Phillies starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff (10-14), and the centerfielder’s long ball in the eighth inning was hit off reliever Frank Herrmann. McCutchen now has 23 home runs on the season.
But this wasn’t the only power displayed in this game.
John Jaso batted leadoff, a familiar spot where he found some success at the beginning of the season, and he hit a home run off Eickhoff, his sixth of the season.
Sean Rodriguez was the hero of Monday’s game, and he contributed Thursday, as well, adding a home run, his 14th of the season, also off Eickhoff in the fourth inning.
In the sixth inning, the Pirates were up 3-2 and had runners on first and third for Jordy Mercer. Eickhoff was still in the game and had a 3-2 count on the Pirates shortstop. He chose not to walk Mercer with the pitcher’s spot in the order due next. And, on that 3-2 pitch, Eickhoff left the ball out over the plate, and Mercer made him pay with a three-run home run.
This was Mercer’s 11th home run of the season, one off his career high, and his 56 RBIs in 2016 are a career high.
Mercer’s homer pulled Eickhoff from the game.
2. Pirates were right to rest Kuhl
For 10 days, pitcher Chad Kuhl sat in the Pirates’ dugout waiting for his next start, and it came in the form of a home game.
Kuhl — who was born in Bear, Delaware, which is 223 miles away from Pittsburgh — had a large group of fans supporting him right by Pittsburgh’s dugout.
No pressure, right?
Kuhl (4-3) dominated from the start and took a perfect game into the fifth inning. He recorded 11 ground ball outs and didn’t walk any Phillies batters.
Even when Kuhl surrendered two runs in the fifth inning, the damage came on the ground and not in the air, meaning it was the Phillies’ hitters who found the holes, not Kuhl failing to execute a pitch.
Whether this season is lost or not Kuhl made a good impression and has a good shot at the 2017 rotation.
For all of the loyalty miscues the Pirates have had, letting Kuhl pitch after a rough start on Labor Day was a smart decision.
3. Division officially lost
Early Friday morning, the St. Louis Cardinals fell 6-2 to the San Francisco Giants, giving the Chicago Cubs their first NL Central division title since 2008.
The Cubs had their way with the Pirates this season, beating them 12 times in 15 games.
With winning the division now out of the question for Pittsburgh, the wild card chase has become all the more important. Currently, the Pirates are 5.5 games behind the New York Mets for that second wild card spot with a critical weekend series for the Pirates starting Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds.
At this point, series victories aren’t enough. With home series against the Washington Nationals and the Cubs and a regular season road trip finale against the Cardinals, a sweep becomes crucial both this weekend and immediately after in Milwaukee against the Brewers.
Image credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports