Heading into the Wild Card game, there was a lot of debate about whether the Pittsburgh Pirates should have held Gerrit Cole back on Sunday, yielded the division to the St. Louis Cardinals, and saved Cole for the Giants. Cole ended up dominating, but the Pirates lost.
Things didn’t go well tonight for Edinson Volquez tonight, and anyone saying Cole should have been the starter is definitely on the right side of things.
Clint Hurdle didn’t exactly do much to avoid further damage after Volquez gave up the fourth inning grand slam to Brandon Crawford. He kept Volquez in for the remainder of the fourth, sent him back out in the fifth, and went to him again in the sixth. Volquez gave up a leadoff walk in the sixth, and that was the end of his night.
Hurdle went to Justin Wilson, who allowed a wild pitch, followed by a single to make the score 5-0. The next inning he went to Jared Hughes, who gave up two runs before being lifted for Bobby LaFromboise. To be fair, Hughes has been a decent reliever all season. However, Wilson has struggled. When you’re trying to avoid the game getting out of hand, you don’t go to a guy who has been unreliable for most of the season, even if it is a lefty-lefty matchup.
It didn’t feel like Hurdle was treating this like a one game playoff that could end your season if you lose. Instead, this felt like a normal regular season game. Even with a deep bullpen that included two starters, Hurdle didn’t go to one of his best options. When Volquez started struggling, he didn’t go with a short-leash and switch to someone like Worley. These are approaches you take in a regular season game or a best-of-five series when you worry about blowing up the bullpen for future games, or saving your best relievers, rather than using them in a game that is getting away early.
And yet, none of those bad pitching decisions mattered. If your offense does nothing at all, then it makes all of the pitching decisions a moot point.
That’s the big story tonight. As much as you’d like to have a scapegoat after every big loss, the real culprit here is Madison Bumgarner. And he was really, really good.
“Bumgarner was fantastic,” Russell Martin said. “Attacking the zone. Not leaving many pitches over the plate. Mixing that cutter/slider with the changeup, the breaking ball, and the fastball. Just never let the foot off the pedal.”
Clint Hurdle echoed the same sentiments.
“The one thing that Bumgarner did so exceptional, he did a bunch of things well tonight,” Hurdle said. “It was a different game that he pitched, a different game than we’d seen scouted. He used all of his pitches. He was able to get his fastball in tight with the right handers. He was able to spin the ball late, dump it late for chase. Used some change-ups early after guys he’d showed the fastball to during it. He also knew how to elevate. I mean, he had it working tonight.”
If the Pirates would have managed a few runs off Bumgarner, then this might have been a different story. But with the way Bumgarner was pitching tonight, it wouldn’t have mattered who the Pirates had on the mound.
Overall, this was a disappointing loss to wrap up what was a nice season. In the coming days and weeks we will be recapping that season, and starting to look ahead to the off-season. For now, the hope would be that the Pirates find themselves back in this position next year, and for years to come.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.