Sometimes, good isn’t good enough.
That seemingly contradictory phrase was proven over the past two days by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are frantically trying to make up ground in the playoff chase.
Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, both of whom were critical to the Pirates’ success in 2013, were the starting pitchers on Sunday and Monday. The two top-of-the-rotation guys pitched well enough to win, but Pittsburgh ended up on the short end both times.
Certainly the Pirates’ bats could be blamed for not supporting their starters.
Sunday’s loss to the Reds saw the Bucs struggle to mount much against Johnny Cueto, although the Reds right-hander has done that to several ballclubs over the course of his superb career. Monday saw the Pirates tee off against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn early, but they couldn’t put St. Louis away when they had the chance.
Nevertheless, sometimes you need your best pitchers to be dominant. In particular, a team in desperate need of victories can’t be allowing the likes of Chris Heisey and Kolten Wong hit game-changing home runs, especially when their presumed best two starters are on the mound.
So you’ll have to pardon me if I’m not ridiculing Travis Snider for being unable to advance the runners in Monday’s eighth inning. I’m also not going to kill John Axford for allowing a go-ahead ground-ball single to Matt Holliday in the seventh, because Cole had allowed the inning to spiral out of control in the first place.
Fortunately for the Pirates, they have the surging Jeff Locke and Edinson Volquez going Tuesday and Wednesday, as they attempt to steal another series from the Cardinals. Bucs fans can also hope that Vance Worley can build off his excellent performance against Cincinnati the last time out.
Starting pitching has been a concern all year for the Pirates, who have the fifth-lowest WAR (wins above replacement) among major-league starting staffs. For perspective, only Arizona, Colorado, Boston and Texas have had worse contributions from their rotations this season, and those teams are a combined 109 games below .500.
To be fair, Liriano and Cole have been trending upward lately. But the Pirates need them to be ace-level performers if they are to make a serious run at a second consecutive playoff berth.