MILWAUKEE – The champagne is still on ice. The Iron City sixer, or the Belgian triple you planned on downing in sweet victory is still in the fridge. Or maybe it’s not after what you saw Wednesday, perhaps it was drunk in despair, while watching a 9-3 loss to Milwaukee.
Yes, the non-winning season streak stubbornly lives on, at least until Friday in St. Louis.
Yes, there were was a lot of ugly Wednesday in Miller Park.
*There was Francisco Liriano’s continuing inconsistency on the road, which is troubling. He’s authored three awful road starts – but two really good ones – since August 1.
Liriano’s road ERA is 4.36 this season.
At home? 1.20. (Attention free agent to be pitchers).
Most pitchers have significant home-road splits in part because of umpire bias. More troubling to me is Liriano’s mechanical breakdowns from the stretch. The Brewers recorded four straight hits off Liriano in the third — on eight total pitches.
*There was Nick Leyva waving in Justin Morneau in the fifth, a really questionable arm movement considering the score and Morneau’s foot speed.
*There was Clint Hurdle not pinch-hitting for John Buck in the seventh, though I asked Hurdle about the left-handed bats on the bench and he defended the decision after the game. He liked Buck in that spot.
“We talked about (pinch-hitting),” Hurdle said. “We have a lot of different ways we make decisions. We have some analysis. We have some hard numbers. I like the match up with Buck. We know we Jones over there. We know we have Snider. I like the match up with Buck right there. Couple reasons: he’s gotten five hits since he’s been here, sharp single to center, ended up lining out to right-center. We liked the match up and we were going to use the other guys (later).”
*There were the benches clearing, though no escalation, after Wily Peralta hit Morneau with a pitch following Andrew McCutchen‘s 101st home run in the fifth. McCutchen left the box slowly unable to pick up the ball. Peralta took it as showmanship.
Said Hurdle: “I think it was a young man that maybe got emotional.”
There was a lot of ugly.
But there were two very encouraging sights for the Pirates among the wreckage: the bats of Morneau and Marlon Byrd.
Hurdle made the absolute correct call, I think, in moving Morneau into the cleanup spot ahead of Pedro Alvarez on Wednesday.
It’s a trade-off: some power for some contact. Alvarez has more home runs and RBIs, but Morneau strikes out at half the rate (17.8 percent to 32.2). And Morneau uses the whole field, something Alvarez has never shown an aptitude and/or willingness for. We saw it Tuesday and we saw it again Wednesday. Morneau lined out to left in the first, he doubled down the left-field line in third. Those are the kinds of professional at bats you want to drive in runs and extend innings, particularly when you have high OBP guys like McCutchen and Neil Walker in front.
“I think it’s an added level of experience, and it’s a different skill set that I think connects the dots a little more solidly through the middle,” Hurdle said. “If Morneau wasn’t here, Pedro hits fourth. Morneau is here. I think we set up a little bit better. You don’t have the same swing-and-miss, you don’t have quite the same power. But I think from a hit-ability angle, and the quality of at-bats, it makes more sense to go that way right now.”
Byrd has been everything the Pirates have hoped he’d be, 13-for-21 since the trade, a line-drive machine, a bit like St. Louis’s Allen Craig in that he seems to have an ability to heighten focus and sharpen approach with runners on. (I know my Sabermetric friends will hate that I just wrote that).
And before you get to down on John Buck, he did catch 25 of Matt Harvey‘s 26 starts this season. Those worked out pretty well.
As friend of the program, David Manel noted, Buck, Byrd and Morneau have already combined for 1.0 WAR. They’ve been here just over a week.
That’s a silver lining.