The Pittsburgh Pirates’ agenda to be bases aggressive in 2023 is already well chronicled.
If you needed a clear example of just how much dedication there is to the running game, it crystallized in the first inning of the Pirates’ 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday afternoon.
The first hit fell Tokopita Marcano with a score of 2-0 in the bottom of the first game (by the way, by two hits). He was credited with getting one and ended up on third base thanks to a throwing error by catcher Austin Barnes.
Marcano scored on a single for Brian Reynolds. Andrew McCutcheon followed Reynolds with a song of his own. After Connor Joe popped up, Reynolds and McCutcheon pulled off a double steal—the fourth steal of the season for both players.
Being at third base allowed Reynolds to score when the next batter, Rodolfo Castro, hit a sacrifice fly. McCutcheon advanced to third on that play as well. Then McCutcheon scored from third base on a swing, an RBI bloop off Jack Swinski. Suwinski would add another steal later in the inning – also his fourth steal of the year.
Suddenly trailing 2-0 became leading 3-2 on Pittsburgh’s first strike, with all three runs a direct result of the Pirates’ base acumen and manager Derek Shelton’s willingness to field it. This is exactly what Major League Baseball was going for when it made some important rule tweaks during the break.
Not only does it shorten the lengths of games by the pitch clock, but it increases the amount of movement during play by making the bases larger, limiting tee attempts and blocking turnovers.
All of these things were meant to increase stolen bases and achieve the potential impact of non-home run base hits to get more action. The pirates quickly became the embodiment of that plan. The Pirates are tied with the Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles for seventh in MLB in runs scored (132) while they are only 13th in home runs (30).
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“You always feel like there is movement,” said Joe. “Mess. Trying to pressure the other pitcher, the catcher. That series can feel it especially. It can feel frustrating on the other team.”
Pirates take an extra 90 feet when they are there during a game. They’ll steal it on the next pitch if it’s not there. They force errors from opposing pitchers and fielders.
Hitting the small ball results in scoring. The Pirates are second in the National League Operating percentage (the percentage of time the baserunner eventually scores a run) is 34% behind only the Chicago Cubs. They lead MLB in steals with 36 (on 43 attempts).
“The last four or five years have been, ‘Okay, let me steal a meaningful base,’ instead of just steal,” McCutcheon said before last weekend’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. “Now it’s like, You know what? I think I can go! Regardless, I think I can get there and go. So go get the bag, then. She has that opportunity, and I love having it.”
Even shooters take notice.
“We’re creating chaos out there,” said Thursday’s tournament winner Mitch Keeler. “We put a taunt, or a heist. All hell broke loose in there. It’s really fun to watch.”
Of course, there is a cause and effect of the hacker’s success in the running game. So far this season, the Buccaneers are on base and playing ball. They are ninth in the league in on-base percentage (. 334) and 22nd in strikeouts with just 206. This makes getting the main contestants involved a lot easier. For now, it’s a formula that works.
So far, for April’s #1 Pirates, what didn’t work?
Tim Benz is a writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets can be retweeted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.
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