Game 48: Abandon all hope? Hold that thought.


Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Gerry Images

HighFiveOsunaATLANTA — Is all hope lost? Is a spot in the postseason out of reach? Is is already time to start thinking about next year? Should the Pirates be sellers at the trade deadline?

Not so fast.

The folks at Baseball Prospectus compiled their oppRPA+ standings, which gauges every team’s strength of schedule to this point in the season. The Pirates’ slate has a oppRPA+ of 105.6, meaning it’s been the toughest in the majors ahead of the Giants (105.2), Royals (104.0), Blue Jays (103.7) and Tigers (102.9).

Eno Sarris, writing for Fangraphs, said the strong test early in the season could help the Pirates later this summer. He noted they have “only” 13 games left against the Cubs and that there are encouraging signs of improvement from Tyler Glasnow. If the schedule gets easier from here, and if Starling Marte is himself (or reasonably close to it) when he rejoins the team, and if Jung Ho Kang ever digs a tunnel out of South Korea (I know it would have to be really deep to go under the Pacific Ocean, but bear with me, OK?) then maybe the Pirates have a shot to do something this year after all.

>>> UPDATE 10:42 a.m. – Gregory Polanco was activated off the 10 -day DL, but is not in the lineup today. Danny Ortiz was optioned back to Triple-A Indy. … Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer) threw a 35-pitch bullpen session this morning, his second such post-surgery workout. “This was more of a competition bullpen,” Taillon said. “I’m tired, but it’s all good.” Bullpen coach Euclides Rojas simulated at batter (without actually holding a bat) while Taillon threw. “I think I struck out Euky a couple of times,” Taillon said with a grin.

>>> Andrew McCutchen is benched today for the second game in a row. Yesterday, he said, without getting into too much detail (well, actually, without getting into any detail) that a big part of his problem at the plate is his upper body is too rotational. After last night’s win (in which McCutchen singled and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seven-run 10th inning), manager Clint Hurdle said he’s not going to discuss McCutchen’s struggles with reporters and told McCutchen to do the same.

Before the game, Hurdle was asked if McCutchen is being hindered by “hard luck,” as indicated by a career-worst .220 BAbip (the league average is .298). “Hard luck plays a way in life,” Hurdle replied. “There is no rule that if you hit a ball hard you get a hit. If you want to hit .300, you’ve got to hit a lot of balls hard. We all get that. So, yeah, it plays a role on hard contact and how it plays out. We’ve got numbers for that. You guys can crunch them and throw them out there. However, there comes a point in time, too, when it’s overall quality of at-bat, the consistency of the at-bat. It’s hard for Andrew right now, so we have to find a way to help him.”

There is more than just bad luck working against McCutchen. His bat speed has declined from 62.1 mph in 2015 to 61.2 mph last year to 59.6 this year. When the bat slows down, exit velocity drops. More softly hit balls usually equate to a lower BAbip. Will mechanical adjustments to his rotation help generate more bat speed? McCutchen isn’t saying, so we’ll have to watch and see over the next few weeks.

>>> Josh Collmenter was DFA’d this morning by the Braves. Last night, he gave up seven runs — including consecutive homers by David Freese, Jose Osuna and Jordy Mercer — in the 10th inning. RHP Matt Wisler was recalled from Triple-A.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 12, Braves 7: Adam Frazier might never make another out the rest of his career.

Notebook: In which McCutchen sits, Polanco runs, Bastardo pitches and alarms go off.

>>> Thursday: Pirates at Braves, 12:10 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Adam Frazier 8, Josh Harrison 7, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jose Osuna 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Gift Ngoepe 4, RHP Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63) 1

Braves: Ender Inciarte 8, Dansby Swanson 6, Nick Markakis 9, Matt Kemp 7, Matt Adams 3, Kurt Suzuki 2, Rio Ruiz 5, Jace Peterson 4, RHP Bartolo Colón (2-4, 6.28) 1

Gamecast: Colon, a 20-year veteran, turned 44 on Wednesday. He has 235 career wins and needs nine more to pass Juan Marichal as the winningest pitcher ever from the Dominican Republic. … Over his first three games since being acquired by the Braves, 1B Matt Adams went 5 for 13 (.385) with two homers and four RBI. … After Kurt Suzuki went 3 for 4 on Tuesday, Braves catchers were hitting a combined .320, the top mark in the majors. Their .427 OBP also was best in MLB. … Josh Harrison notched his 600th career hit on Wednesday.

>>> Friday: Mets at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: RHP Zack Wheeler (3-2, 3.74) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 5.85)

>>> Saturday: Mets at Pirates, 7:15 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: TBA Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (2-5, 3.36) Note: LHP Tommy Milone (1-2, 7.91) was slated to start, but on Wednesday was placed on the DL.

>>> Sunday: Mets at Pirates, 8 p.m., PNC Park. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM

Mets: RHP Matt Harvey (3-3, 5.36) Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 6.69)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.


Pirates go from heartbreak to homer-happy, rout Braves


Story and videos by Rob Biertempfel

ATLANTA — Down two runs in the ninth inning on Wednesday, the Pirates had runners on first and second when Josh Harrison mashed a fly ball to the deepest part of SunTrust Park.

If the ball touches grass, the game is tied. If it clears the fence, it’s a go-ahead homer. Instead, Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte hauled it in at the wall.

“I hit that ball well, but he ran it down,” Harrison said with a shrug. “That’s one of those times when you look at baseball and you say, ‘Baseball sucks.’ ”

Not very long after that, however, the ballpark wasn’t big enough to contain the Pirates.

In the 10th inning, the Pirates exploded for seven runs — including consecutive homers by David Freese, Jose Osuna and Jordy Mercer — and crushed the Braves, 12-5.

“It’s crazy,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Harrison drives that ball to the wall and it looks like out heart is broken, and we still answered.”

The Pirates took a three-run lead in the first inning on Adam Frazier’s three-run homer. Right-hander Julio Teheran shut them down after that, which gave the Braves time to rally for a 5-3 lead.

Osuna tied the game in the ninth with a two-out, two-run single.

Mired in a deep batting funk, Andrew McCutchen was not in the starting lineup for just the second time in 47 games. He led off the 10th inning as a pinch-hitter and lined a single to left.

Rookie Gift Ngoepe stroked an RBI double off Josh Collmenter.

“You could feel it in the dugout when he got that knock,” Harrison said. “It let a little bit of pressure off the rest of the squad.”

It was Ngoepe who began the game-tying rally in the ninth by legging out an infield single. In the 10th, he reached out for a 1-2 cutter and laced it toward the right field corner.

“I was just trying to battle and look for a good pitch I could swing at,” Ngoepe said. “(Collmenter) is a little funky, and he threw me a pitch I could throw my hands out there and put it in play.”

After Adam Frazier was intentionally walked — reaching base for the sixth time in the game — Harrison lined a two-run single.

Freese hit a two-run homer to left field. Osuna and Mercer followed with solo shots. It’s the first time the Pirates went deep in three straight at-bats since Sept. 13, 2013, against the Chicago Cubs.

“It’s why people come to the ballpark, you never know what’s going to happen,” Hurdle said. “Not a lot of hitting early. For us to show up in the ninth again was big, was fun. You can’t figure it out. It’s fun to watch.”

In the second inning, Frazier’s two-out homer gave the Pirates a 3-0 lead.

Frazier isn’t afraid of two-strike counts. He owns a career .325 average with two strikes and is hitting .379 when the count was 0-2.

Yet, Frazier had never hit a home run in his first 136 plate appearances with two strikes. That changed in the second inning.

Mercer led off with a single up the middle. With one out, Mercer should have been the front end of a double play, but shortstop Jace Peterson booted Chris Stewart’s routine grounder. Trevor Williams sacrificed the runners over.

Teheran got lucky with his first pitch, a slider down and out of the zone that was called a strike by umpire Vic Carapazza. Frazier then fisted a fastball into foul ground to fall behind 0-2.

Teheran opted to try be sneaky in another four-seamer up and in to the lefty batter. Frazier timed his swing perfectly.

The home run traveled 401 feet and crashed off the brick wall of the Chop House restaurant beyond the right field wall.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.