There are a lot of people you could blame for the Pirates losing Sunday:
- Brandon Inge for going 0-for-4 and fouling up an easy double play turn
- Garrett Jones for going 0-for-5, leaving four runners on base and making hiccups at first base
- Russell Martin for going 0-for-3 and committing his season’s first error in the 11th
- Manager Clint Hurdle for letting the game slip away without using All-Star Jason Grilli or five infielders
- Tony Watson for missing his spot and serving up the go-ahead homer in the 7th to Scott Hairston
And really you would not be wrong with any of these opinions. After all, scapegoating is a grand tradition in Pittsburgh Sports! Point is that it takes a team to lose. Despite the two hits apiece from Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, despite the strong five innings from A.J. Burnett in his return from injury, despite Vin Mazzaro and Mark Melancon delivering perfect innings and despite Starling Marte hitting a game-tying home run on his final strike…
The Pirates lost. Tip your cap to the Cubs’ pitching staff for allowing three runs over 11 innings.
They should not be losing series to the Cubs, whether they are playing at Wrigley Field and on the moon. At this juncture, the expectation is the Bucs will win three-game series against losing teams. So don’t read into these following paragraphs as an excuse, because the Pirates should have won this series and should have won the previous series against the Phillies at PNC Park.
Now I have to break out the big text.
Stop freaking out about the Pirates losing two series of baseball.
And if you’re not freaking out but are still concerned about the Pirates losing two series of baseball, stop being concerned. Jesse Marshall writes about the Penguins and knows a little about the nature of Pittsburgh fans:
Sometimes (see: any type of small losing streak) Pittsburgh has a 16 game schedule mentality. It permeates to every other sport.
— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) July 7, 2013
There are people legitimately asking if these two series losses are the beginning of COLLAPSE 3.0: THE COLLAPSENING. While fans never want to see their team lose games, Marshall is dead on that Pittsburghers’ emotions run far too high over a single loss. Even going 2-4 over six games is congruent to being behind 28-14 halfway through the 3rd quarter of any given Steelers game. Every win counts, but not every loss is a bellwether for Losing Season No. 21.
Look at this six-game set as a whole: the Pirates scored 21 runs and allowed 24. Many times that will be enough to go 3-3, this time it was 2-4. The team has been pretty lucky at winning one- and two-run games, but in this set it was unlucky including today’s against a team that has a better run differential than the 38-48 record indicates. No matter how good your bullpen is, not every team is going to be the 2012 Baltimore Orioles and have a .763 winning percentage in one-run games (not a joke, they actually went 29-9).
So what now? The Pirates still need to upgrade their offense, as they are averaging only 3.9 runs per game (12th in the NL) and a 95 wRC+ (9th in the NL). Given the strength of the team’s run prevention ability, such an offense should be enough to see the Pirates play .500 ball the rest of the season, win 90 games and make the playoffs. Key word: should. They are 7th in the NL in offensive production at first base and 13th in right field, allowing plenty of reason to upgrade at either spot.
As they sit tied for first with the St. Louis Cardinals the Bucs get the privilege of heading into the All-Star Break with six home games: three against the first-place Oakland Athletics and three against the not-so-first-place New York Mets. It’s a perfect opportunity to stop a bad week before it turns into a slide, before the number of those willing to rationalize a slight downturn begins to thin.
The Pirates are tied for the best record in Major League Baseball.