The Indianapolis Indians were eliminated from the International League playoffs tonight, ending their season. That also wraps up the minor league season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The major league season has a little less than a month to go. But do the Pirates have anything left to play for?
I’ve got to be honest here. I didn’t watch much of the last two games. On Friday I was driving down to Raleigh to visit some friends. When I checked the score, the game looked out of reach, and that was before the Cubs had 12 runs. My first thought after seeing the one hit the Pirates had was “Jeff Samardzija must be on the mound”. My thought when I saw it was Travis Wood on the mound was “Who the hell is Travis Wood?”.
Today, Samardzija was on the mound, and while he didn’t take a one hitter in to the ninth inning, he did pitch a complete game to take the series from the Pirates.
I didn’t watch much of either game, which gives me a different perspective. I checked Twitter after each game, and the general feeling (especially after losing two in a row) was doom and gloom. There were questions whether the Pirates could even finish above .500 (they’d have to lose two out of every three games the rest of the year).
That attitude is expected, especially after watching a 12-2 loss on Friday, followed by a second loss against one of the worst teams in the league. The loss today was as acceptable as any loss could be. Even a bad team can win with their best pitcher on the mound. But the loss on Friday, with Travis Wood on the mound and the guy supposed to be your ace starting, isn’t acceptable.
Taking a step back (which is easy to do if you didn’t watch the games and experience the misery), they’re just two losses. The St. Louis Cardinals also lost the last two (actually, they lost the last three). The Pirates remain 1.5 games back from the Cardinals, and half a game back from the Dodgers. They’re still in the race.
The analysis about the Pirates right now is going to be focused too much on the last two games, or the recent stretch. That’s not to say that the recent stretch has been good. It’s been bad. It hasn’t been like a contender should play. But at the same time, the Cardinals and the Dodgers are also struggling. The Pirates are 4-6 in their last ten games. The Cardinals are 3-7, and the Dodgers are 5-5.
As I mentioned a week ago, the Pirates haven’t been hurt by their struggles, mostly because St. Louis and Los Angeles are also struggling. But eventually one team is going to break free. That might be St. Louis. It might be Los Angeles. It might even be Milwaukee or Arizona if the three leading teams continue their struggles. We hope it would be the Pirates. They’ve got the schedule to do it, which might be the most disappointing thing about their recent play. It’s a week since I wrote the article linked above, and the Pirates haven’t started playing like contenders yet. But they’ve been fortunate as the Cardinals and Dodgers haven’t played like contenders either. This won’t last the entire season.
The Pirates can do this. They’re slumping now, but the idea that this slump will continue the rest of the month is a bit ridiculous. Stepping back, it’s two losses in a row. That’s not good, but it’s not unheard of. One of those losses was embarrassing, but it still only counts as one loss.
A lot of what leads to the doom and gloom is that it’s the Pirates. They’ve lost 19 years in a row, so they’ll lose this year. They came close in 1997, but fell short of a winning season, and fell out of the race late. Last year they were in first place in July, then had a horrible finish to the season. All of those things happened to the Pirates in the past, so they’re absolutely going to happen again, right?
Not necessarily. That’s not how baseball works. It’s an easy way of thinking. The Pirates fell apart last year, and they’re struggling now, so this is just the start of that collapse again. But that’s lazy thinking. St. Louis and Los Angeles are also struggling, and no one is making the same claims about them. It’s a “grass is greener” view. The feeling isn’t that all three teams are struggling. The feeling seems to be that the Pirates are blowing their opportunity while the other teams are struggling, as if the Pirates can’t keep up if/when the Cardinals and Dodgers break out of their slumps. But the truth is that all three teams are close in record, and all three teams are struggling at the same time. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s the exact same.
It would be great for the Pirates to be winning while the other teams are struggling. But the lack of winning right now doesn’t mean the Pirates are out of it, or hurting their chances. They’re still 1.5 games out. A week ago they were 1.5 games out. A week before that they were one game back. A week before that they were one game up. A week before that they were 1.5 games up.
Look at this closely and base your opinions on the most recent games, and the outlook doesn’t look that great. But step back and look at the overall records and the Pirates and Cardinals have been separated by two games or under for the majority of the last month. To me that looks like a playoff race. And it just so happens that all three teams are slumping at the same time at the end of the season. But the race is still going on, and there’s no reason to think the Pirates are any less likely to contend than the Cardinals or the Dodgers.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost to the Cubs 4-3.