After a solid week of bashing the opponents' brains in with big hit after big hit, I've been hoping to see the Pirates' pitching staff slowly step back into the spotlight. It's not that I have any problems with how the Pirates have been playing lately -- I'm not one to quibble with results like this -- it's just that good teams tend to be balanced teams and the Pirates' pitching staff has been slowly slipping of late, enough that it's been bugging me for a while.
So tonight Jeff Karstens took the mound in a game that I think we all had a notion could be slightly lower scoring for the Buccos. As good as the offense has been of late, the team definitely still struggles against strikeout pitchers and as much as Bud Norris has struggled of late, he's definitely a strikeout pitcher. Norris wasn't brilliant tonight (he gave up four doubles), but he managed to limit the damage against him pretty well and the Pirates found themselves unable to do much after taking a 2-0 lead in the third.
None of that mattered because Jeff Karstens looked about as good on the mound as he ever has. His curveball looked like a wiffleball pitch tonight and it had the Astros flailing out of their shoes over and over again (he threw 20 curves, 17 for strikes, and seven of those 17 were swinging strikes). He struck out eight Astros in his eight innings of work, walked one, and never let two runners on base at any point in the game. He had a five-pitch inning in the third and a seven-pitch inning in the eight. Even in his best starts last year, Karstens seemed efficient more often than dominant. Tonight, he was dominant. It's true that the Astros came into tonight tied with the Pirates for most strikeouts in the NL and that they no longer have Carlos Lee in their lineup, but the Pirates needed a great start from Karstens tonight and they absolutely got one.
The win completes a four-game sweep of the Astros, it gives the Pirates their eighth win in their last nine games, it puts the Pirates ten games above .500 at 46-36, and it ensures them of another day alone in first place, no matter what the Reds do tonight. This is a strange world we're living in and I'm not complaining about it even one little bit.
Rest is good for everybody. I'm glad the starters will have a few days off next week. I also wonder if the Pirates can use their glut of capable starters to spell the rotation to keep them fresh for the stretch run. Maybe insert Lincoln as a sixth man in the rotation once or twice to give everyone a little more time off. Or call up Owens, have him pitch once in Burnett's place, and tell Burnett to go home and have a 10-day vacation.
Matt, Hammer's fastball was in the 94-96 range, but he had no idea where it was going. In golf terms he was hooking it and slicing it...missing to both sides pretty badly.
Friars win! Reds blow it! Two game lead for the Buccos! The world has gone mad!
On a serious note, am I the only person worried about Hanrahan? He blew a save a couple days back, he gave up a homer on his first pitch the other day and I think he threw maybe 4 strikes while making a mess out of the inning tonight. Only the 'Stros ineptitude saved him from another meltdown. Either he's still injured or he's reverting back to Nationals form. Either way, Hurdle looked ready to yank him so something is up.
If this season truly is a throwback to 1992, I'd prefer to try it without this generation's version of Stan Belinda. Already read that book, hated like the ending.
This is unreal. The Pirates have got the second best record in the NL (b/c the Dodgers are .001 below us) and the fourth best record in baseball. WTF?!!