The Pirates couldn’t manage to keep an early lead on Tuesday as James McDonald labored through 4.2 innings and the Bucs struggled with an inconsistently-called strike zone, and the Cardinals won 3-2.
Lyle Overbay’s two-run homer gave the Bucs an early 2-0 advantage, but Allen Craig’s RBI single in the fourth and Albert Pujols’ sacrifice fly in the fifth tied the game for the Cardinals. The Cards then scored again on Pujols’ RBI single in the seventh to take the lead for good.
It wasn’t a horrible game overall for McDonald, and he shouldn’t have been expected to be terribly sharp, given that he suffered a side injury late in spring training. But he struck out four batters while walking four, while Cardinals starter Kyle McClellan whiffed seven while walking just one.
Strikeout and walk numbers can be great indicators of how a team has really been playing, and right now, the Bucs are posting awful numbers in those areas on both sides of the ball, suggesting that their 3-1 start was a bit of a fluke. Neil Walker is off to a great start so far, but his 10 strikeouts are worrisome, and Pedro Alvarez’s eight strikeouts and no walks show that his slow start has been well-earned. (It’s true that Alvarez will always be a high-strikeout hitter, and that won’t stop him from being productive. But eight strikeouts and no walks shows that he’s just confused out there right now.) There have already been several games in which the opposing starter has racked up strikeouts against the Bucs, while the Bucs’ own starter has struggled to strike out as many as he walked. That can’t continue if the Pirates are going to be competitive this year.