First Pitch: Playoff Races Kind of Suck

Mark Melancon blew his second save this week, although this one was on his defense. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Mark Melancon blew his second save this week, although this one was on his defense. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

For so many years the Pirates were on the outside of a playoff race. You could watch all of the contending teams, maybe pick a team you wanted to cheer on, but with no attachments you could just cheer for good baseball.

Good baseball is being played right now in the NL Central. And it sucks if you follow one of those NL Central teams.

The Reds came back in the ninth inning tonight against the Pirates, then won in extra innings. That tied for the Wild Card, and put them both 1.5 games back from the Cardinals. Later in the evening the Cardinals blew a two run lead in the ninth, but escaped with a tie, and won it in the tenth inning. That gave them a two game lead over the other two division rivals.

To the casual MLB fan, these games are great. Having three teams within two games of the division? Having one team come back to tie with a second team for the Wild Card spot? Another team holding off a comeback attempt only to add some space in their division lead? All of that is amazing.

Unless you follow one of these teams. Then it takes a totally different tone. There’s no way to enjoy what happened with the Reds if you follow the Pirates or Nationals. If you follow the Reds and Pirates, you can’t enjoy the Cardinals fighting back in their game, then blowing a lead, then coming up big to prevent the winning run, then winning the game in extra innings.

There’s a flip side to this. There are the days like Thursday, where the Pirates destroyed the Padres, the Cardinals lost, and the two teams were a game apart in the NL Central. That was a good day if you follow the Pirates, bad if you follow the Cardinals and Reds, and good all around if you are a fan of any other team.

You’d think these days would even out, but they don’t. In general, a winning result is going to be dismissed as something a team needs to do. The win against the Padres was the total opposite of the loss against the Reds. It was an amazing win, and this was a crushing loss. But the wins are expected, and a loss like this hurts because a win was so close. So they don’t balance out. A loss like this weighs heavier than a win, even if it’s a win against the Reds. That’s not saying that a win wouldn’t be enjoyable. But you’ll forget the win a day later. The loss sticks with you.

Keep in mind that I’m not projecting these thoughts onto the players. I don’t think they view the game in the same manner.

It’s definitely not a bad thing to be in the playoffs. A late September loss for the Pirates means they’re now two games out of first place, and tied with the Reds. That’s better than the previous years where a loss didn’t mean anything, because the season was over in late September. So it’s a good thing that the Pirates are in a playoff race.

But that playoff race is full of intense game after intense game, day after day. There is no break. This is pretty much the intensity of a 16 game NFL season, all crammed into one week, and then it’s followed by a possible March Madness style, one and done Wild Card playoff, and then if the team wins, that is followed by as many as three different normal playoff series.

Let us pre-emptively mourn all of the Pirates fans we’re about to lose due to the stress of the next few weeks.

Links and Notes

**Playoff Race Update: Reds and Pirates Now Tied For the Top Wild Card Spot

**Reds Stun Pirates in 6-5 Comeback Victory

**Pirates Notebook: The Most Important Game All Season

**Five Players Who Could Help the Pirates Win the NL Central

First Pitch

  • A few years back we were watching Game 163 between the Twins and Tigers and my daughter (8 at the time) commented that we should be glad we don’t root for a good team because we don’t have to deal with the stress.

  • If there is one concern I have had over Melancon as closer, it is just that, Jeff. Situation like that last night, really needed to miss a bat, and he couldn’t do it. Credit to Mesoraco, too. I don’t know if he is falling in love with that cutter or teams are finally starting to adjust to it. I would not say last night was on Melancon, though. Just frustrating he couldn’t finish Mesoraco there when he needed it. Mercer’s play on that weak groundball was what opened the inning up completely. Even Cozart’s single was a weak little flare over second, and the game-tying hit never left the infield.
    I do agree with you a healthy Grilli has the better stuff to close, as he can generally go to two pitches to put you away. But unfortunately, I don’t know that he will be ready to resume that role this season. I sure hope so.

    • I don’t get this “Melancon can’t miss bats” argument. Granted, Grilli strikes out a ridiculous amount of batters. But Melancon strikes out a batter an inning on average. He started off that inning by striking out Votto.

      • Was partly intended as a comparison of the two (Grilli and Melancon). I know he is about a K/IP, which is a very good ratio. Maybe this is me nit-picking again, but since he has taken over as closer, I think Melancon has had about four appearances where he has K’d more than one in an inning. In comparison to Grilli, I think he had 8 appearances alone in the month of June where he fanned two or more (I think 6 in May and 4 in April). I realize there are closers who can be effective without fanning batters like Kimbrel or Greg Holland (or Grilli when healthy) – just in taking over the role, losing that same degree of effectiveness to K batters like Grilli had shown prior to injury, was and continues to be a concern for me. When you have a greater proficiency of being able to get outs without having the ball put in play, that is obviously a big advantage and reduces the chances of what we saw last night. Again, not implying at all that last night was solely the fault (or much fault at all) of Melancon’s.

        • I think we as fans can become somewhat myopic, Melacon’s profile, cutter usage, K/9, BB/9, mirror the man who became the ethos of the entire regimented bullpen. Mariano Rivera, yes Melacon’s cutter is not as good, but you will not find another reliever with Melacon’s K and BB rates, and a 60% GB rate. I think Tim pointed this out somewhere but he does not give up extra base hits.

          Regardless of what pitcher entered in the 9th last night there was a 97% of winning that game. It is sickening, but I do not think much can be learned/explained from that loss, if we try we are chasing noise.

        • Its not a matter Tim that “melancon can’t miss bats” its a matter of- compared to Grilli missing bats early in the year, he’s as hittable as Terry Mulholland or Jamie Moyer. The point here isn’t we are saying Melancon stinks, he doesn’t. we all know that, lets not be dramatic. What we are saying is that Grilli does a BETTER job of missing bats or at least WAS doing that early in the year than Melancon has been doing. Thats all. We know you’ve been saying most of the year how you feel Melancon is better than Grilli, but a lot of us simply disagree with the stats you use to back that up. THey are both good setup men, and both good closers, Grilli is better and Melancon has in fact, pitched better in the 8th inning than in the 9th. That’s all we are saying. Lets move on. Grilli is back

          • The difference here is that you’re only looking at strikeouts. I’m looking at everything. Grilli misses bats, but Melancon is better at everything else. He doesn’t give up homers or walks. He gives up fewer line drives, and hardly any fly balls, while Grilli is a fly ball pitcher.

            I’m not saying Grilli is a bad reliever. But the idea that Grilli is more dominant than Melancon is false. Dominance isn’t about strikeouts. It’s about everything involving a batter and a pitcher. Grilli has the strikeouts. Melancon has strikeouts too, but beats Grilli in everything else.

            Basically they’re both equally dominant, just in different ways.

  • Well at least it is was not the one game playoff.

    Tim, do you have any opinion on the roster September expansion, I am interested in your perspective given that you cover prospects/farm system.

    • I put up a few things before and after rosters were expanded. I’m not sure what you’re asking about here.

      • Sorry that question was vague. Just are you in favor of it, I have read others who suggest having expanded rosters for the first month of the season with possibly starting the upper minor leagues later? I really do not understand why the expanded September rosters exist. Do the call ups benefit, does the major league team?

        It’s the currently the rule but I just do not see the point, why is the final month played under a different system than the first five?

        • I thought you might have meant that, but I wasn’t sure if you were also referring to the specific Pirates callups.

          I have no problem with rosters being expanded. It’s the same rule for everyone, so it’s not like it gives any one team an advantage. The only way a team would have an advantage is if they have better depth than other teams, and that team should get an advantage.

          I don’t know how it started, but rosters expanding in September makes sense for a few reasons. One is that the minor league season is over. Therefore, you can call up those players since they’re not doing anything.

          A bigger thing is that players are usually tired at the end of the season. So callups add some more players, allowing teams to better manage the health of some players. The guys coming up from Triple-A will be equally tired, but the idea is that if you have more options, you have more chances to give certain guys a break. We saw that this week when Martin sat for two games.

          I also think it benefits every team. Contenders can call up guys who help them in their playoff run. Non-contenders can call up guys and give them a shot for next season, kind of like a trial. September call-ups might be more important for that reason. If the Pirates were losing this year, and they had Andrew Lambo tearing the cover off the ball like he has been doing, then September would be the perfect time to give him a trial and see if he’s capable of being a starter next season.

          I’m for the idea of September call-ups, mostly because every team can do it, and there are good reasons to support the rule.

          • My one reservation was it seems like it is a rule that allowed teams to give players tryouts for next year, when there were two leagues, a series not a post-season, and about four teams in the race. However, as you state,I presume it benefits all teams regardless of their situation.

  • Melancon fault.
    After error, 1 on, 2 outs, 2 run lead. Ya think he could have punched out 1 batter? Bottom of order was up.
    A healthy Grilli would have nailed down the win.

  • I blame hurdle for this loss. Was his little unemotional rant suppose to convince us, his team, who that he was protecting Cutch?
    He was just out here all full of himself acting like a jerk for the cameras while there was still a very important game to win. Barmes should have been playing in the 9th and yes I know that Hurdle could have been managing from the tunnel but he was probably in the clubhouse seeing how his big fat red face looked on camera. He lost focus last night as well as mercer and you just can’t have that this time of year. Not with this cincy team that is already in the boys’ heads. I’m totally sick this morning. Maybe I’m overreacting but I don’t think I am

  • I’m just curious but how long has it been since Jeanmar Gomez has thrown a pitch other than in the pen “warming up” if Melancon continues to struggle he would be an excellent closer option.. good velocity good breaking pitches and doesn’t seem to be bothered by pressure or a small lead