Pirates' stout defense endures rare off night

Pirates' stout defense endures rare off night

Pirates' stout defense endures rare off night

ST. LOUIS -- A Pirates team that finished the regular season ranked near the top in key defensive categories had a porous day in Thursday's 9-1 loss to the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

David Freese singled in two runs in the third inning, and Bucs right fielder Marlon Byrd's throw hit Freese to let another run across. Shortstop Clint Barmes bounced a throw to first base while trying to complete a fifth-inning double play to give the Cards another run in the fifth. In the sixth, center fielder Andrew McCutchen saw Matt Adams' double scoot under his glove, and Matt Holliday was able to score from first base.

NLDS

According to FanGraphs, which charts defensive metrics and a myriad of advanced stats, the Pirates ranked third in the Majors in runs saved with 68 (behind the Royals with 94 and the D-backs with 86), and they were fifth in the Majors in batting average against on balls put in play (.285). It means the Bucs took away runs, rather than gave them away, and positioned themselves in the right spot with regularity.

But they opened this series by not throwing accurately or catching the ball. Manager Clint Hurdle isn't fretting, however, that the Pirates have forgotten how to play defense in one day.

"We had a rough game," Hurdle said. "Game 164 was rough. That's one of the things we've been real good at is we don't overcook things we don't play well. We go in there, honestly self evaluate what we have to do tomorrow. We're down one game in the series, and we'll move on."

Hurdle's players echoed the theme.

McCutchen said the defense was down on the list of ills Thursday, and he had a point. Starting pitcher A.J. Burnett gave up seven runs and six hits, including Carlos Beltran's three-run homer, and walked four while pitching two innings, plus not retiring any of the eight hitters he faced in the third. The first error, by Byrd, merely made the deficit 7-0.

And the Bucs had just four hits -- one more than their error total -- and didn't come close to solving Redbirds starter Adam Wainwright.

"It's just one of those games," McCutchen said. "You'd like to be crisp every single day you go out there, but we weren't able to really have that. That definitely wasn't the reason we lost tonight. We lost because we didn't pitch too well and couldn't get any guys on base, couldn't get anything going."

Burnett hopes the series goes long enough for him to have another start, and not put the team down to the point that defense doesn't matter.

"It's a five-game series, not a one-game series," Burnett said. "These guys know that, and they look forward to tomorrow. They can't wait, and I can't wait to watch them."

The Pirates won the regular-season series with the Cardinals, 10-9, but St. Louis outscored Pittsburgh, 87-85. Some of the games were lopsided in either direction. The Cards won games by eight, 13, five and seven runs, and the Bucs bounced back from all those.

"The test is being strong in the playoffs," Byrd said. "That team has done it. We haven't. This was the first time, so we come back tomorrow, work hard, get the win and go back to Pittsburgh with a 1-1 split and try to stay home."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.