First Pitch: Why Do the Pirates Lose to Bad Teams Right Before Playing Good Teams?

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole will take the mound tomorrow to try and snap a three game losing streak. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pittsburgh Pirates have lost three in a row to the San Diego Padres, which means you’re going to hear a lot of questions that you’ve heard in the past. The main question will be “how can they win against the Reds if they can’t even beat the Padres?”

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s very similar to these questions.

“How can they beat the Cardinals after dropping two of three to Miami?” (The Pirates went on to win the next four against the Cardinals.)

“How can they beat the Cardinals after being swept by the Rockies?” (Granted they went 1-2 that time against the Cardinals.)

“How can they beat the Cardinals after losing two of three to the Brewers?” (This time they won 2-for-3 against St. Louis.)

“They’re going to get swept by the Rangers after being swept by the Cardinals.” (They swept the Rangers.)

This isn’t how baseball works. The Pirates aren’t going to go 0-10 the rest of the season because they lost three straight to the Padres. Based on the season results against the Cubs and Reds, it’s more likely they go 6-4 or 5-5 the rest of the way, and either one would get them in the playoffs, even if Washington went 10-0.

When thinking about those other instances where the Pirates had disappointing results leading into a big series, I started wondering about the “trap game”. A “trap game” is where a team has an easy opponent right before a difficult opponent. The idea is that they might be looking past the easy opponent and looking ahead to the tougher team. That creates a great opportunity for an upset.

The Pirates would never admit to doing this, and if you ask any of their players they would respond with “one game at a time” lines. The results speak differently. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Pirates are taking these easy teams lightly. It could all be coincidental. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’ve lost against some bad teams right before they’ve had a big series.

Looking at each individual instance, you could explain them away one by one. The Marlins series was on the road at the end of a ten game road trip. They came back to play the Cardinals at home the next day.

The Rockies series was also on the road, and Coor’s Field is a tough place to play. The Pirates followed that by losing 2-of-3 to the Cardinals on the road.

The Brewers series was at home, and the Pirates could have easily taken 2-of-3. Instead they lost the first game 7-6 when the bullpen gave up two runs late. They bounced back to take 2-of-3 against the Cardinals at home.

The final instance wasn’t exactly the same. The Cardinals are a good team, and I don’t think the Pirates were looking past them to play the Rangers. This was more of a situation where the Pirates lost, then everyone thought they couldn’t possibly win, and they immediately turned it around.

That’s the common theme here, and it has been the common theme all season. The Pirates have gone through stretches where they’ve looked horrible for a series. Yet they’ve never lost more than four in a row, and they’ve limited the losing stretches. I’ve talked about this many times, but here are the updated numbers after tonight.

**The Pirates haven’t gone worse than 3-7 in any ten game stretch the entire season.

**They have only gone 3-7 on three separate occasions, out of 143 possible ten game stretches.

**They have 20 losing stretches this year, again out of 143 possible ten game stretches.

In previous years the Pirates always turned a bad series into a bad losing streak. They didn’t stop at four losses in a row. They had a lot of ten game losing stretches, and they were worse than 4-6 many times throughout the season. That’s what losing teams do.

That’s not this team. This is a team that has looked really bad at times throughout the season. But they’re also a team that immediately bounced back almost overnight every single time. Every team in baseball is going to look horrible the way the Pirates have looked horrible the last three games against the Padres. What separates the winners from the losers is whether those teams can break out of that slump, and how quickly they can turn things around. The Pirates have done a great job of that this season.

It’s weird that the Pirates keep losing to bad teams right before they face good teams. They may or may not be looking past those opponents. The more important issue is how they respond to losing stretches. Losing three in a row to the Padres makes you think crazy things. It makes you think that it’s possible that the Pirates will miss the playoffs, even though that would require them to go 4-6 the rest of the way and the Nationals to win out. Or 3-7 and 9-1. Or 2-8 and 8-2. Either way, it’s extremely improbable, especially when the Pirates have winning records this year against the Reds and Cubs.

At this point it looks like the Pirates are capable of a horrible slide. But that’s nothing new. They’ve looked this way at various times throughout the year. And each time they surprised people by immediately bouncing back. Don’t be surprised if they do this again. It’s only what they’ve been doing for 152 games now.

Links and Notes

**Morton Electric, McCutchen ‘Clutch’, Pirates Lose 3-2

**Pirates Notebook: A Man with a Plan for Martin

**Trades Were Never Going to Help This Streaky Offense

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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