ST. LOUIS -- Man, this sure felt like the end.
It isn't, of course. Not yet, anyway. Not with these Pirates still 5.5 games back in the Central, 3.5 back in the wild card, both very much mathematically viable obstacles to overcome. And certainly not with all the poise and passion shown over the better part of the season.
Still, this 7-0 silencing at the Cardinals' hands Monday night at Busch Stadium ... yeah, it just felt like all the wrong feels, you know?
Unless one can concoct another way to describe the franchise's reigning Gold Glove left fielder savaging these two early fly balls:
Corey Dickerson didn't make two misplays like those through all of 2018, but he botched those within the opening third of this game, each handing St. Louis a run and, maybe worse, each piling onto Joe Musgrove's already unwieldy early pitch count.
On the first, Tyler O'Neill scorched a sinking laser Dickerson's way -- one that, in all candor, could be appreciated so much more live -- one he struggled to trail because of what several participants described as wicked topspin. Not that he shouldn't have caught it, but at least there was a plausible explanation.
On the second, a tall drive by Paul Goldschmidt ... wow, who knows?
I asked ...
... and he answered, "I should've made that play. I was at the wall. Jumped a little bit. It hit in my glove and popped out. I felt bad for Joe."
That was 3-0. And but for a blip of a rally by the Pirates that was thwarted by a brilliant Dexter Fowler catch -- more on that below -- that also was that. Musgrove was out after five runs over 4 2/3 innings, O'Neill kept scorching to the tune of two two-run home runs, and Miles Mikolas went the distance for an eight-hit, old-school shutout.
A week ago, this group fairly strutted into the All-Star break a game below .500, 2.5 games off the Central lead and poised for so much more in taking on the division leaders over the weekend in Chicago. But the Cubs swept that, and this loss makes it 0-4 -- and outscored, 29-10 -- for this pivotal, possibly season-defining six-game trip.
Consider this, too: Clint Hurdle had a chance to line up his pitchers the way he wanted coming out of the break, and the only starter to fare reasonably well was Chris Archer, the somewhat questionable choice to go first Friday at Wrigley with six-plus innings, three runs and 10Ks. After Archer's start, Jordan Lyles, Trevor Williams and now Musgrove have combined to concede 20 runs over 11 innings.
Remember Hurdle's assessment of the Central in Chicago? That the division would be won by "the team that pitches the best in the second half?"
This sure isn't it.
For that matter, remember Neal Huntington vowing to add to this roster by the July 31 trade deadline?
No, but that's because he didn't. And won't. As ever with this front office, they'll have to have their hand forced. It's already the middle of the month.
Time to put the season in Dario Agrazal's right hand. He's next. Third big-league start. No pressure, kid.
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