Pirates Still Searching For Response to Arrieta-Caliber Dominance

The Bucs’ wild-card failures the last two seasons have cast a shadow of doubt if not impending doom over a season that otherwise ought to be ripe with promise.

It wasn’t so much the pups in the park that resonated on Tuesday night as it was the elephant in the room.

That would be Jake Arrieta.

The Cubs’ lights-out right-hander returned to PNC Park and reminded the Pirates what happens when you go up against a pitcher capable of doing what Arrieta does on a regular basis.

Arrieta did to the Pirates what he’d done to them last October, what Madison Bumgarner of the Giants had done to them the October before that, what somebody else seems destined to do to them this October if the Pirates aren’t able to somehow change the equation.

The Bucs’ wild-card failures the last two seasons have cast a shadow of doubt if not impending doom over a season that otherwise ought to be ripe with promise.

When the Cubs hit town on Monday, the Pirates were leading Major League Baseball in batting average (.290), hits (259) and on-base percentage (.375). And they had achieved those lofty totals without rehabbing third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who is still in the process of working his way back into the lineup at Class AAA Indianapolis.

It was a small sample size given that the season was still in its early stages. But it was nonetheless encouraging, from Sean Rodriguez’ surprising power surge to Gregory Polanco’s much-anticipated apparent maturation at the plate to John Jaso’s as-advertised ability to get on base.

And then Arrieta showed up on Tuesday and threw seven shutout innings at the Pirates, allowing two hits and retiring 10 straight and 17 of 18 while doing so.

Apparently starting Matt Joyce in right field isn’t the answer against Arrieta, either.

To the Pirates’ credit, nobody else seems to have stumbled upon that since the second half of last season. Arrieta took the mound on Tuesday night having gone 21-1 with a 0.89 ERA in his last 25 starts. Then he beat the Pirates, 7-1.

Clemente in right field might not be an adequate answer for that.

The alternative is for the Pirates to find an Arrieta-type hurler of their own, someone good enough to go toe-to-toe with an Arrieta, a Bumgarner or whatever pitcher happens to show up with the seemingly untouchable stuff this October should it come to that once again.

Unfortunately, those guys are hard to find.

The Pirates have a guy who might someday become that guy in Gerrit Cole, but Cole has yet to show signs of such a transformation so far this season.

Again, it’s a small sample size. But Cole’s most recent start on Monday night, the night prior to Pup Night, failed to get any tails wagging in anticipation. He didn’t make it into the fifth inning while allowing his record to drop to 2-3 and his ERA to rise to 3.95.

That’s more Jake from State Farm than Jake Arrieta.

So the search continues.

“It really is up to the guy on the mound,” ROOT sports play-by-play man Greg Brown observed during Arrieta’s latest dissection of the Bucs. “The Pirates had a chance against Arrieta if Cole gave them a chance in the Wild Card Game.”

Instead, Cole surrendered a run-scoring single to the second batter he faced against Arrieta and the Cubs last October.

And against Arrieta or a pitcher of his caliber in a game with one-and-done implications, one run might be one too many.


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section