I have a few issues with the term “collapse” that is being thrown around a lot lately. The first issue is that the word is being mentioned as if something is final. It’s a hyperbolic way of saying the team has been playing poorly the last month. It’s not enough to just say the team has been playing bad. You’ve got to get dramatic about it.
The word collapse suggests that the team has collapsed, or that they’re in the process of collapsing, which suggests that a collapse is inevitable. The truth is that the team hasn’t collapsed. They might be in the process of collapsing, but there’s still enough time for them to get back on track and win. In all of the losing, they’re still within reach of the playoffs. Despite the recent losing, there has also been losing from St. Louis and Los Angeles. No one is running away with the second wild card spot. Yet we don’t hear about the Cardinals or Dodgers collapsing.
There’s probably not a lot of optimism that the Pirates can turn things around, and that’s certainly understandable after being swept by the Cubs and losing against the Reds tonight. The fact is that this is a team that quickly goes from hot-to-cold, and cold-to-hot. It’s not out of the question for them to go on a hot streak out of nowhere.
That brings up another issue, and my bigger problem with the term “collapse”. I’ve been thinking about something the last few days: Is “collapse” the correct term? Collapse looks at the team as a contender that shouldn’t have fallen like the Pirates have since the beginning of August. Are the Pirates that contender, disappointingly falling in the final months of the season? Or are they a pretender that only got this high because of two unlikely months in the middle of the season?
The term “collapse” suggests that the Pirates were contenders, and that their recent stretch is out of the ordinary. But let’s look at the breakdown of the won/loss records this season.
The first two months of the season the team was at .500. Then they took off in June and July and everyone thought they were contenders. It’s hard to think otherwise when the team enters August with a 59-44 record, 15 games above .500, and three games back from the division lead. They followed that up with a 13-24 stretch since the start of August.
Right now we’re still stuck on August 1st. That’s how we are viewing the team. This isn’t a team that is 72-68 on the season. This is a team that was 59-44 and is collapsing. That might not be the correct way to look at things.
Looking at this from a larger perspective, this team looks closer to a .500 team. They played .500 ball the first two months of the season. They had two huge months in June and July. Now they’re in the process of two horrible months to end the year. That split is due to the fact that this team is very streaky. As I mentioned above, they quickly go from hot-to-cold, and cold-to-hot. That’s not what contenders do. Contenders have cold streaks, but they usually bounce out of them quickly, and usually stay consistent all year.
Nothing about this year has been consistent for the Pirates. They’ve gone from a .500 team that was lucky to be at .500, to one of the best teams in baseball over a two month stretch, to one of the worst teams in baseball since the start of August. It’s hard to be a contender when you’re prone to those wild swings in performance, especially when the swings for the worse can last for over a month.
Collapse might not be the best term to describe what the Pirates are currently doing. Collapse suggests they’re contenders who are falling from a place they should be. Looking at the season from where we are now, the correct term might be “Regressing”. That suggests that the Pirates are falling to a place they should be. They’re not as bad as they’ve been playing lately, but the fact that they’ve been playing this bad tells us they weren’t as good as June/July. They’re probably in the middle of that, which puts them close to a .500 team.
That’s probably the best way to describe this team. They’re a .500 team. The difference between a .500 team and a contender isn’t huge. If the Pirates are a .500 team, it’s good progress from where they were last year. It’s probably disappointing to think that way, considering we spent most of the summer thinking of them as contenders. Even if it’s disappointing, the team is moving in the right direction, which should be encouraging. What should be disappointing is that they don’t appear to be there just yet. They don’t look like a contender right now. They don’t look like they’re collapsing. They look like they’re regressing to a .500 club.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates lost to the Reds 4-3.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.