Happ’s Second-Half Struggles Continue in Pirates’ Loss to Cubs

The Chicago Cubs moved within three games of the Pirates for the first Wild Card spot by hammering the Pirates 5-0 in a lop-sided affair on Tuesday night.

J.A. Happ came into tonight’s contest struggling mightily since the All-Star break, and that trend continued. Happ was only able to last 4.1 innings, giving up eight hits and four earned runs.

Happ ran into immediate trouble in the first inning. The Cubs loaded the bases on an error by third baseman Aramis Ramirez and singles by Chris Denorfia and Anthony Rizzo. Happ then walked Jorge Soler to force in a run, but was able to minimize the damage by inducing two straight groundouts.

The big blow came in the third inning when Happ allowed doubles to Rizzo and Starlin Castro, followed by a David Ross single, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead. Happ was lifted from the game with one out in the fifth inning after allowing another double to Rizzo. He battled inconsistencies with his command during the entire outing, and threw 99 pitches before being lifted.

“There were some solid sequences throughout the evening,” Clint Hurdle explained after tonight’s game. “The overall consistency, we’ve got to get some improvement there. We saw a quality pitch in just about every at bat.”

Although Happ only walked two batters, he still administered six three-ball counts. Tonight was his third consecutive start in which he was unable to make it through five innings. In 17.1 innings since the All-Star break, Happ has given up 22 hits, nine walks and has an 8.31 ERA.

Overall, Happ now has a 4.78 ERA and is dead last in baseball out of the qualified starters in average innings-per-start.

With the recent injury to A.J. Burnett, the Pirates will need much more from Happ as well as from the rest of the back end of their rotation. Charlie Morton was terrific on Sunday against the Reds, and he has the ability to be a solid number three starter when he is on his game. Jeff Locke has cooled off a bit since his red-hot June and early July, and will look to get back on track tomorrow night versus the Cubs.

**Jake Arrieta absolutely dominated the Pirates for the third time this season, limiting them to just two hits and three walks over seven scoreless, stress-free innings of work. Arrieta has now given up just 11 hits and two earned runs in 21 innings against the Pirates this season. If the current standings remain the same and the Pirates and Cubs were to meet in a one-game Wild Card playoff, it would be interesting to see if the Cubs would choose Arrieta to pitch in that game over Jon Lester.

**Arquimedes Caminero provided the lone bright spot tonight in his 2.1 innings of work, giving up no runs and striking out six batters. This was Caminero’s fourth consecutive outing in which he hadn’t allowed a run.

Caminero said after the game that he’s feeling a lot better with his mechanics, and that he is “trusting the process.” Caminero turned to his off-speed pitches early in the count, keeping the Cubs’ hitters off-balance and prohibiting them from sitting on his fastball.

**I had an interesting talk with Michael Morse before today’s game about the San Francisco Giants recent playoff success. Morse believes that one of the big reasons is their relaxed approach.

“One of the key things [the Giants] do is, they try not to over-stress during playoff games,” Morse explained. “You tend to try to play better than how you’ve been playing, but how you’ve been playing has been working. So whether you know it or not, you’re changing your game, where-as [the Giants] try to relax even more. A lot of people say in the playoffs that every pitch counts, every pitch is important – this and that. [The Giants] try to think more [along the lines of], just have a good at bat and don’t think about every pitch meaning so much. And it actually works. It relaxes you, and you’ve seen what they’ve done three out of five years.”

Morse mentioned yesterday that he believes he can provide some guidance to the more inexperienced players on the Pirates roster, which could hold some significance heading into the stretch run. Having a wealth of experience heading into October can’t be a bad thing.

  • Can anyone explain why Pirates are 10 or 11 games under .500 against NL central teams sounds weak? At that rate if they played only NL central teams they would be20 games under .500

  • All I can say is, ok ray (searage) you’ve see him (happ) now you have five days to fix him, so get to work.

    • Ray seems to have fixed Caminero, which I didn’t think was possible until the offseason. So who knows. But doesn’t seem there’s a lot to work with there. I’d be satisfied if Happ just kept the team in games through six… which of course means the offense needs to score 3-4 runs.

  • One thing I have learned over time about the game of baseball : if you don’t score, you can’t win. I don’t care who is pitching for you.

    • You got it. The Pirates have been very inconsistent with scoring this year and I think that was their 6th time being shutout this year and a bunch of 23 run games. I thought that the Mets had a bad offensive but they are looking great right now with Cespedes… By the way whats up with Martes power? It looked like the was going to hit at least 25 HR’s this year. As for Polanco what a disappointment with only 4 HR he should have at least 10 right now. He hits more balls right to the wall just cannot get that extra few feet to put it out.

      • Unfortunately I don’t see the Pirates doing very well in the second half. They relied almost completely on pitching the first have with such an anemic offensive and now that pitching has come back to earth and the offensive has not improved at all, I don’t even see them making the playoffs right now. The Nats, Mets, Giants, Cubs, Dodgers are all much better teams right now. Even the Reds are better and who knows they might just make a run.

        • I don’t think much of what you said finds basis in reality…however, the Pirates are in danger, yes. Only 3.5 games ahead of SF and we now only have 2 reliable, consistent starters and a hit or miss offense and weak defense (anyone else disappointed with ARAM over at 3B defensively since he’s come over?)…

    • Mercer can't hit RHP
      August 5, 2015 5:41 pm

      Can’t sneak the obvious by you Leo. Most of us figured this out by the time we were in 1st grade. Lol

  • Maybe I’m drinking the koolaid, but I saw Happ hit 95 a few times and when he kept the ball down and/or in it was effective. I also saw very few changeups, but it looked like a pitch with potential when he threw it. I didn’t see enough curves and the slider was a waste as he had no control of it and didn’t even get it close most times.
    I’d ditch the slider, increase the change and focus on keeping the ball down. If he’s hitting spots at 95 and tossing a change at 85 and a curve at 75 he’ll improve dramatically. Uncle Ray needs to work him a little bit.

    • You are drinking the kookaid. The Cubbies should have had 8 runs against him he was that bad. His location was horrible and if he hit 95 it was rare. To me he looked like a pitcher with little focus and less confidence. I wish I saw a guy who I thought could help down the stretch but Happ wasn’t that guy last night.

    • Bad night, but he did some things that seem interesting. Hitting 92-93 consistently. Able to get swing and misses. His issue seemed falling behind in counts and having to attack more than you’d like. He’s gotta work ahead more to be effective.

    • There is no way this guy is going to change everything overnight after all these years. He throws the fastball well to spots at 92. When he missed his spots the Cubs crushed him. It was depressing to watch in person. First impressions on this one is that Neal got fleeced. AJ should have disclosed the injury sooner so we weren’t dumpster diving at 3pm on deadline day. Where are all of Neal’s sycophants this morning?

      • Mercer can't hit RHP
        August 5, 2015 8:17 pm

        Well he’s been able to turn the franchise around and has made some shrewd moves in doing so. How is it NH’s fault that he found out at the 11th hour?

  • If the Cubs beat the Bucs tonight with Haren, NH trade deadline deals will be completely open for criticism. The Cubs got Haren, we got Happ.

    • Haren’s xFIP is 4.58. Happ’s is 3.99. So that means that according to what their ERA’s are, Happ has been better this year, and that Haren has gotten very lucky this year and Happ very unlucky. I’m sure NH is smarter than you and realized that.

      • Also, Haren’s BABIP this year is .248, which is 40 points under his career norms. So it would seem tonight would be a good night for Bucs offense to fix that for him.

  • JA Happ isn’t very good, but we knew that when we acquired him. The Pirates will certainly need much more than Happ can provide down the stretch to stay ahead of the Cubs and Giants…The Pirates would be in real trouble against the Cubs and Arrieta in a 1 game playoff…let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

    • Since the Cubs and Giants would have to face Cole in a one game playoff, I’m sure they wouldn’t be thrilled about playing us either.

      • Interesting…what are their numbers against Cole? I’m pretty sure we’ve scored 2 runs on Arrieta in 3 starts this year…and I’m pretty sure MadBum made us look pitiful last year…

        • We got no hit by Scherzer this year….and also knocked him around. I think taking 1-3 starts and making assumptions is dangerous. Any SP you face in the WC game is going to be very good. Lester/Arrieta, MadBum, Kershaw/Greinke, Scherzer, any Mets pitcher. Just comes down to executing on that day.

    • Agreed. Bucs looked terrible last night. In a one game playoff Arrieta vs. Cole I believe Cole would yield more solid contact. For those of us there it got so bad(and quiet) people started doing that stupid shrieking noise that Pens fans sometimes do at the end of the game. The only positive for me was that Ramirez hit the ball hard three times. My impressions of Happ with the caveat it is much harder to judge pitch movement when you are there in person. He seemed to have only two pitches…..a fastball at 92 and some kind of breaking ball at 84. He seemed to get a lot of first pitch swings and misses on first pitch fastballs, but by pitch four they were timing him up. He worked fast, threw strikes and wasn’t wild or erratic. Sort of what you want in a top flight batting practice pitcher. I think the Cubbies agreed. My buddy had the most depressing observation of the night….Happ looked like Wandy before we released him. One more start like this and I think we see Liz.

  • Not the start I had hoped for from Happ – just no consistency in Command of any pitch and seemed to be pressing. I agree with Clint Hurdle’s take on his performance. Let’s hope it gets better.

    Just for the record, Locke is listed as having 20 starts and is averaging about 5.66 Innings per start – probably around Number 64 of the 79. Charlie Morton has 13 starts, but is averaging right at 6 innings per game which would be around No. 40.

  • Just ask Barry Bonds, you mean.

  • Sound advice there Mr. Morse. Unfortunately easier said than done for most. Jyst ask Kershaw.

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