First Pitch: Here is Why the Pirates Have Been Contending All Year

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano has stopped two of the four, four game losing streaks this season. If the current streak reaches him, it will be the first time the Pirates have lost five games in a row this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Today the Pirates lost 9-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals, getting swept in the weekend series, and falling out of first place by 1.5 games. In the process they also did something that has only happened four times this season: lost four in a row.

The Pirates have yet to lose more than four in a row this season, which is a streak that will be put to the test tomorrow against the Texas Rangers and Yu Darvish. They have previously lost four in a row in early April, early July, and from August 9th to August 13th. The last game of that losing streak was the opener against the Cardinals on the road, and they dropped two of three in that series.

All of the wins and losses count the same, but this weekend’s series might have been more important. It was the last time the Pirates will play the Cardinals during the regular season, and the three game sweep took them from a 1.5 game lead in the NL Central, to being 1.5 games back and tied with the Cincinnati Reds.

That said, I wouldn’t necessarily say the season is over. Back on July 14th I pointed out how the Pirates were preventing the long losing stretches. At the time, they didn’t have a single ten game span worse than 4-6. In fact, of 83 possible ten game stretches at the time, they only had five losing stretches.

The Pirates have since added six more losing stretches in the second half, with most of those happening right after the All-Star break. Tonight the Pirates moved to 4-6 in their last ten games, which makes this the 11th time this season the Pirates have had a losing ten game stretch. They have fallen below the 4-6 mark, but never lower than 3-7, and that only happened twice.

To put that in perspective, the Pirates have 133 possible ten game stretches this season. To have a losing record in only 11 of those stretches is amazing. To only go worse than 4-6 in just two of those stretches is unbelievable.

That has been the biggest thing for the Pirates this year. They have avoided the long losing streaks, and they’ve avoided the big slumps. This weekend’s series hurts because it’s against the Cardinals, and it dropped the Pirates out of first place, and we’re in the final weeks of the season. But the Pirates aren’t exactly slumping. Well, they are, but only by their standards. Everyone has been waiting for The Collapse all season, but this doesn’t look like a team that will collapse. They’ve gone 142 games where they’ve rarely seen a really bad losing stretch. They are in their fourth four game losing streak right now, but before that started they had won four out of five last week, including two of three against St. Louis.

The series against Texas will be difficult. They’ve got some tough pitchers to face, a contending team, and they will be wrapping up a nine game road trip. On the bright side, they have two of their best pitchers in Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett pitching (granted, neither pitched well in their last starts). Then they’ve got eight games at home against the Padres and Cubs, which should help them pad the standings.

Are they going to collapse? Still no. Will they win the division? That’s up in the air. And that’s not unusual, or a sign that the Pirates have no shot. It’s just a sign that this is going to be a very tight race down the stretch. That’s what makes those losses against the Cardinals so difficult. It’s also what will make the games against the Reds at the end of the month so important. As long as the Pirates can avoid frequent losing stretches, they will stay in this race, and will still have a shot at the division. It’s just not going to be comfortable to watch.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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