The Pirates weren’t crushing the ball in tonight’s game against the Cubs. Despite opposing starter Tsuyoshi Wada leaving his high 80s fastball over the plate several times, the Pirates didn’t bash numerous extra base hits.
Yet, with a single here, a blooper there, and a few extra base hits mixed in, the Pirates put seven runs and 14 hits on the board, winning the game 7-3.
It wasn’t anything spectacular; not an offensive showcase to adulate over. It was merely what the Pirates offense has done all year, stringing quality at bat after at bat together. That’s what makes this offense — 2nd in the National League — so good.
“Each man just going up there and putting the best at-bat he can,” Hurdle said. “Once those spikes get in the box, we’re going to battle, we’re going to fight, we’re going to scratch, we’re going to claw. We were able to do it tonight.”
Tonight’s scattering of runs — scoring in six separate innings — is indicative of the type of offense this is. They won’t put together the big innings, but they’ll consistently thread quality at-bats together every inning.
“We scored five straight innings, they answered in three of them. And we were still able to battle, come back, and score two in the sixth and add one more late,” Hurdle said. “They’re in a confident place when they’re at the plate right now.”
It all starts at the top of the lineup for this offense. Josh Harrison’s been a spark-plug this season, and a consistent one at that. Every game he can be trusted to set the table for the offense. He did that again tonight, collecting three hits, one walk, and scoring twice.
Whoever’s hitting behind him can breathe a bit easier, knowing the pitcher has to approach them differently when he’s on base. Today, it was Jordy Mercer, who notched three hits and three RBI’s.
“He definitely sets the tone. Every time you basically go up there he’s on base,” Hurdle said. “Knowing that he’s going to be on base, knowing that he’s going to make something happen and put the pitcher in the stretch, it makes things a lot easier for me.”
Mercer’s been no small part in the offense either. After a poor April and May, his OPS has eclipsed .730 each month. Post All-Star break, he’s hitting .288. For Mercer, it was never an issue with his swing or stance, but mental.
“Keep believing, keep trusting myself. Knowing that I can do it, I’ve done it before, and knowing that it’s going to return, and it did,” Mercer said.
But it doesn’t stop there. Andrew McCutchen had two hits. Neil Walker had two hits. Chris Stewart had two hits. Jose Tabata chipped in with a triple. Despite missing Starling Marte and Russell Martin, the offense didn’t skip a beat.
“We just kind of feed off each other,” Mercer said. “Couple guys get it going and you kind of want to join the party. You don’t want to get out. “
It’s not just the other hitters who feed off each other. Gerrit Cole — and the rest of the pitching staff — can pitch easier knowing they’ve got this offense to pick them up. Cole surrendered three runs in six innings today, all three coming in separate innings. Yet, the offense was there to pick him up every time, scoring a run in all three of those innings.
“These guys have been putting runs up for us all year, playing nine innings and battling, and coming back after we put them in a hole,” Cole said.
As strange as it is to say, it’s not the pitching that’s led this team. It’s not the fielding either. After years of crawling behind or lagging with the other parts of the team, it’s finally the offense leading the way.