Two of the Pirates most important players who the team must get rebound seasons from to be even a threat to make the playoffs played into the narrative surrounding both in the 5-3 season opener loss to the Boston Red Sox.
Narrative 1: Gerrit Cole is not an ace
Narrative 2: Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season is who he is now. At least that’s narrative surrounding McCutchen from baseball folks.
Cole getting pounded after a fantastic first four innings was the type of start that has started to make the fifth year veteran a frustrating pitcher to some.
The second, third time hitters see him in game, the opportunity for a bad inning increases with Cole that doesn’t have him going long enough in games.
That’s how things played out in the opener. In a positive sign Cole was bringing the heat in a big way.
Hitting 98, 99 but where the Red Sox rocked Cole with mistakes he shouldn’t be making in attacking specific hitters the third time around with the same location/same spots, while also elevating pitches.
The Benintendi home run, Cole tried to get him out with the near same pitch/location from the first time he struck Benintendi out and it was costly.
Decisions there that sometimes also fall on the catcher has already brought the Gerrit Cole/Chris Stewart discussion to the forefront and its Game 1 of 162. Francisco Cervelli not Stewart caught Cole in the opener.
Three of the big hits off Cole in the fifth all came on 95 mph+ fastballs.
Two outs in a 0-0 game.
Jackie Bradley on a 2-1 count, rips a line drive to right on a 97 mph fastball from Cole.
Pablo Sandoval singles off a 91 mph slider, scoring Bradley.
Sandy Leon singles on a bunt ground ball
Dustin Pedroia singled to center off a 95 mph fastball, scoring Sandoval.
And then the dagger
Andrew Benintendi crushes an elevated 98 mph fastball for a three-run homer.
Red Sox attack McCutchen with off-speed pitches
No matter the sport, every spring training or training camp when a so-called established player is coming off a disappointing season, he is ‘always’ regarded as being in the best shape of his life and there’s story after story of how that player is primed for a bounce back season.
McCutchen has been that guy the last couple months. He’s handle the trade talk and position switch with grace publicly and like the Marc Andre Fleury situation with the Penguins, everyone knows McCutchen’s time is nearing an end in Pittsburgh but many are rooting for a storybook ending in that he goes out as a Pirate with a bang and looking like the MVP candidate he used to be.
That question won’t be answered for many months.
The Pirates have been optimistic there’s going to be a some kind of bounce back from McCutchen but the thing I keep coming back to on McCutchen is how there was so little trade interest in McCutchen after just one bad year, not to mention he’s making $14 million per season, which is peanuts for many baseball franchises.
Evaluators and executives around baseball saw so many alarming signs in 2016 from McCutchen’s lost athleticism, to a lack of bat speed and hard-hit balls, it just gives you pause that maybe the McCutchen of old is long gone.
In the loss to the Red Sox, McCutchen was 0-4 with three strikeouts, leaving four on base, including two in the seventh inning when the Pirates were rallying.
The Red Sox tormented McCutchen with off-speed pitches as McCutchen struck out on his last three at-bats, all situations with men on base.
Third Inning | 2nd At-bat:
With one on, Porcello gets McCutchen with a swinging strike on a slider, then gets McCutchen out with another slider for the strikeout.
Sixth Inning | 3rd At-Bat:
McCutchen fouls off two four-seam fastballs at 90 mph to fall behind 1-2 on the count. McCutchen then goes down with a swinging strike three on a slider way inside.
Seventh Inning | 4th At-bat:
With two men on and the Pirates trailing by two, McCutchen gets ahead 2-0 but fouls off an 86 mph changeup high in the middle of the plate, setting up a 2-2 count and Barnes gets McCutchen chasing a curveball for another swinging strikeout.
The book was out there last year with McCutchen on the shifts that he couldn’t combat well due to his low hard-ball contact rate and the Red Sox went right at him all game with off-speed pitches that others will follow suit.