The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t played anywhere near their best in about three weeks. Because of that, the Bucs now face their biggest series of the season.
The Milwaukee Brewers, behind homers from Carlos Gomez and Aramis Ramirez and an effective outing from starter Mark Rogers, topped the Pirates 7-0 Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. After losing two of three to Milwaukee this weekend, Pittsburgh (68-59) is now 9-15 this month and 5-12 since beating Arizona Aug. 8.
Due to the ongoing slump, the Pirates are now two games behind St. Louis for the National League’s second wild-card berth. Coincidentally, the Cardinals will come to town for a three-game series starting Monday night, putting pressure on Pittsburgh to avoid falling any further behind in the sprint to the postseason.
“We need to play better than that, but nobody knows that more than [the players],” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I wouldn’t say we’re not focused, we’re just not getting the results. Our fans know it too, and I continue to expect great support from them this week.”
Pirates fans jammed PNC Park for the weekend series, selling out all three games. But the full stands haven’t kept the team from going just 4-9 in August on the North Shore, where Pittsburgh once had the best home record in MLB.
After falling to the Brewers 6-5 Friday night and winning 4-0 Saturday, the Pirates had a sluggish offensive day against Rogers despite putting at least one baserunner on against him in each of his five innings. The 26-year-old threw 101 pitches and allowed three hits and three walks in his sixth career start.
“We weren’t able to capitalize in two-out situations,” Hurdle said of his team’s offense against Rogers. “That’s what you gotta do to get on a roll and we didn’t do that today. We had opportunities early but couldn’t take advantage.”
Pirates starter Erik Bedard held the Brewers hitless through 3 2/3 innings, but the lefty allowed three straight batters to reach in the fourth, the last of which was Gomez, who whacked an inside breaking ball into the left field bleachers to put Milwaukee ahead 3-0.
In the fifth, Rogers got the Brewers back in gear with a leadoff double. He was driven in by Rickie Weeks’ single, and Ramirez followed with a blast over the centerfield wall on a 2-0 pitch, making the score 6-0.
“It came down to two soft pitches [from Bedard] that weren’t located very well,” Hurdle said. “The curveball to Gomez and the changeup to Ramirez.”
Norichika Aoki hit a sacrifice fly against reliever Kevin Correia in the sixth to complete the scoring. New Pirates pitcher Hisanori Takahashi, acquired from the Angels through the waiver process, was given the eighth inning and put together a 1-2-3 Pittsburgh debut.
“Wasn’t anything not to like, not when you get three outs on six pitches,” said Hurdle of Takahashi. “We were looking to get him in there.”
However, there was much to dislike about the Pirates offense, which got only two walks in 15 plate appearances by Nos. 1-3 hitters Travis Snider, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen. Shortstop Josh Harrison was the only Bucco with two hits, as the team collected a mere five. Manny Parra, Jose Veras and Kameron Loe combined to handle the last four innings after Rogers departed.
The Pirates’ critical series vs. St. Louis begins Monday night at 7:05 with A.J. Burnett opposing the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse.