For the first time in 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates look like they’re out of steam. That’s a problem when there are still 38 games to go.
The San Diego Padres polished off a three-game sweep of the Pirates Wednesday afternoon, prevailing 4-2 at Petco Park. Pittsburgh finished a stretch of 20 games in 20 days with a record of 7-13, including a 2-4 mark on the just-completed road trip to St. Louis and San Diego.
The Bucs will have a day off Thursday to recharge, and they’ll need energy to get back on pace to make the MLB postseason. With three separate three-game losing streaks in August, the Pirates (67-57) could take the field Friday at PNC Park out of playoff position for the first time in months. Both St. Louis and Los Angeles could move ahead of Pittsburgh for the National League’s second wild-card spot with a win Wednesday night.
But that concern is secondary to simply playing better. The Pirates looked befuddled against Padres starter Andrew Werner, who was making his major-league debut just two years after trying to find his way in independent minor-league baseball.
Despite Werner’s inexperience and unremarkable repertoire, the Pirates managed only four hits against him in six innings to finish the season series 1-5 against the fourth-place Padres (56-70). San Diego beat the Pirates two out of three times at PNC Park earlier this month.
Pittsburgh starter James McDonald wasn’t exactly outclassed, but he allowed three runs in the first inning to make a comeback win at pitcher-friendly Petco Park difficult. McDonald went five innings and was tagged for four earned runs while allowing 10 baserunners (five hits, five walks).
On the positive side for the Bucs, Gaby Sanchez hit his first home run wearing Pittsburgh garb and Pedro Alvarez reached base three times and drove in a run. Jared Hughes (one inning) and Chris Resop (two) relieved effectively, allowing just a walk combined in the final three frames.
Padres slugger Carlos Quentin struck a critical blow in the first inning when he doubled in two. McDonald walked Everth Cabrera, Wil Venable and Chase Headley in succession to start the game, and Quentin picked up his first of two hits on the afternoon with a drive off the wall in left-center. Mark Kotsay followed with a sacrifice fly to push the lead to 3-0.
The Pirates wasted a Garrett Jones leadoff double in the second, but Alvarez got the visitors on the board with a two-out single to right that scored Andrew McCutchen. Jones was thrown out trying to advance to third on the play, ending the threat.
Venable’s double to start the Padres’ fifth led to a run when Quentin grounded an RBI single through the right side.
In the seventh, Sanchez launched a Werner pitch over the centerfield wall to pull the Pirates within two. Alvarez followed with a walk to chase Werner, but Brad Brach came in to retire the next three in a row. Luke Gregerson and Tommy Layne closed out the contest with an inning each of perfect relief.
The Pirates begin a six-game homestand Friday night at 7:05, when they welcome the Milwaukee Brewers to town for a three-game series. Wandy Rodriguez will get the call on the mound.
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