Even though it is only the beginning of August, and there’s two months remaining on the season, there seems to be a feeling that the 2011 season is over for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have lost six of their last seven games, and while they might have been in first place just two weeks ago, they sit five and a half games out on August 2nd, in third place behind the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals.
If you’re thinking this feeling of the season being over is familiar, you’re right. The feeling that we’re in the beginning of the end has come over Pirates fans many times this year. In fact, we’re on version seven of “this is the end of the season”. Here’s a quick recap:
March 31st: The day before Opening Day, which marked the end of the 2011 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
April 13th: Pirates lose 6-0 to Milwaukee, dropping to 5-6 on the year, the first time they would fall below .500. They would remain below .500 for the rest of the season.
May 15th: After climbing their way back to one game above .500 on May 9th, the Pirates lose five in a row, including a three game sweep against the Milwaukee Brewers, dropping to 18-22 and thus marking the beginning of their eventual demise.
June 20th: The Pirates managed to climb to two games above .500 on June 16th, after some impressive wins over the Phillies and Diamondbacks. However, they lost four games in a row going in to interleague play. As usual, the start of interleague play would also start the worst part of the season for the Pirates.
July 16th: Despite reaching first place the day before, the Pirates lose 6-4 to the Astros on the 16th, dropping to third place, and ending any chance of ever seeing first place again in 2011.
July 23rd: Somehow the Pirates did climb back in to first place, but after losing three games in a row, and falling to 51-47, they dropped back to third place, a game out of first.
August 1st: The Pirates climb back in to first place, but lose six of their next seven, dropping to 54-53, and five and a half games out of first place, the lowest since June 12th. Even though they were in first place a month later the last time they fell 5.5 games back, this time it means the season has come to an end.
No one came in to this season thinking that the Pirates had a realistic chance of competing for the NL Central. A lot of people came in to the season thinking the Pirates had a realistic chance at another 100 loss season. At the start of the season, everyone just waited for the other shoe to drop, and for the team to begin their normal tailspin. Around June, the Pirates started looking like real contenders. But a lot of people came in to the season with low expectations, so there still existed a feeling that the Pirates would eventually tank.
The entire season it seems like fans have been waiting for the wheels to fall off the wagon. Every time the Pirates hit a bad stretch, people are quick to pronounce the season as over. The Pirates are in the middle of a bad stretch right now, but it’s no worse than some of the bad stretches they’ve been in throughout the year. The only difference is that we’re currently in this stretch, where as we’ve seen the Pirates come out of previous stretches.
Having bad stretches is what teams do. Contending teams have fewer of them, and don’t let them go on. They also balance them out with strong runs, like we saw out of the Pirates in early June, and then again in early July. The Pirates definitely have their question marks, with a struggling offense, a pitching staff that is arguably playing over their heads, and a ton of injuries. That said, let’s actually let the season play itself out. We’ve seen the end to so many seasons this year that Andrew McCutchen should be a free agent by now. This could be the beginning of the end. Or it could just be a bump in the road. That’s something the Pirates can control with their progress going forward. They have a good opportunity to bounce back, with six games against the Cubs and Padres. If they want this to be a bump in the road, they need to take as many of those games as possible.