It was only two weeks ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates were sitting seven games out of first place in the NL Central, fresh off a seven game losing streak. The streak came against contenders like the Detroit Tigers, the Washington Nationals, and the Atlanta Braves. It looked like their chances of winning the division were gone. Then they bounced back by going 7-2 in their next nine games, pulling to within two games of first place.

And now, a few days later, we’re nearly back to where we started.

The Pirates lost the final game against Cincinnati on Sunday, followed by a sweep against the Cardinals to start the week. St. Louis now finds themselves in first place, thanks in part to Milwaukee going on a free fall in the standings. Meanwhile, the Pirates are five games back in the NL Central, and two games behind Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot.

I’d say their chances of winning the Central or even making the playoffs are pretty much shot. But it was only two weeks ago that they were worse off than they are right now. And their schedule over the next two weeks is a lot easier than the schedule that saw them go 7-2.

Coming up, the Pirates have six games against the Cubs, four games against the Phillies, and three against the Red Sox. That’s 13 games against non-contenders. Of course the Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule, with a lot of games against the Reds, Cubs, and Rockies. Unless the Cardinals just start to fade down the stretch, it’s going to be difficult for the Pirates to make up the ground they just lost.

The silver lining here is that while the Pirates were struggling this week, so were the other teams in the Wild Card race. The Brewers have lost eight in a row. The Braves are 1.5 games ahead of the Pirates in the Wild Card race. The Giants are sitting 2.5 games ahead of the Brewers, putting the Pirates 4.5 games back from the first Wild Card spot. The Giants do have a somewhat difficult schedule coming up, with games against the Tigers, Dodgers, and several games against a Padres team that they’ve only managed to go .500 against.

It’s definitely possible for the Pirates to still make the Wild Card game. In fact, they could still get home field in the Wild Card game if they capitalize on the upcoming schedule. Maybe they win the Wild Card game, no matter who they play, or where they play it. But beyond that, it’s hard to see this team advancing any further in the playoffs after what we’ve seen the last few days.

Links and Notes

**Marauders Eliminated From the FSL Playoffs

**Tyler Glasnow Named to Baseball America’s 2014 Minor League All-Star Team

**A Good Sign in Jameson Taillon’s Tommy John Rehab

**Josh Harrison Named NL Player of the Month for August

**Morning Report: A New Focus For the 2014 Draft Picks

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50 COMMENTS

  1. The Cardinals showed how a quality team wins games, with simple at bats that advance runners, often with singles.

    At this time, McCutch epitimizes the Pirates’ dilemna with his constant swing (all or nothing power swing). Or JaHays constant swing at out-of-strike-zone breaking pitches. Or Marte’s constant “hack swing”. No variance in any of their approaches.

    Most often, the game does not call for a power swing, but a measured approach that fits the situation. That is the definition of Cardinals baseball, IMHO

  2. This is what I said was the reason the Pirates would not make the post-season all along – They can’t get the guys on base home to score.
    I said all along that pitching was not the problem. They needed better run production. While they had a good team on base percentage, it did not translate to winning games because of men left on base.
    This was evident in that 3 game series vs. the Cardinals very prominently.

    It was also evident during the entire time that they had Jayson Nix, Michael Martinez and Brent Morel starting in place of the injured guys.
    This is where it showed that having starter-quality reserve guys would have saved this team. Had they kept Marlon Byrd and had him all year as a fourth outfielder, he would have ended up playing everyday just like Josh Harrison. This should have been addressed last off-season and at this season’s trade deadline but wasn’t.

    If you lived through the 70’s championship teams you could see that having starter-quality reserves was what made that those teams such good contenders – Guys like John Milner, Bill Robinson, Mike Easler, Lee Lacy, Rennie Stennett, Steve Nicosia etc. was the thing that made them better than every other team and why they did not leave tons of guys on base every game like this current team does.

    • Most of the guys you mentioned were starters – at least in platoons – for most of their time with the Pirates.

      While I get what you’re saying and think it would be great to fill the bench with starter caliber players, I don’t think it’s as easy as you seem to think.

      The game was different then (and I remember those days as I started following baseball and the Pirates in the mid-70’s):
      – There were fewer teams and free agency was just beginning, so players didn’t have the opportunity or freedom to change teams as easily as they do now. If a starter quality player isn’t starting these days, he’ll walk as soon as possible to a team where he can start.
      – Benches were deeper, as most teams carried 14 or 15 position players instead of the 13 that are usually carried now. That allowed the Pirates to carry a guy like Matt Alexander, whose job was to pinch run and steal bases and then score. Still, they had a deep bench that could pinch hit well and play adequate defense when needed.

      • I believe they did not need the deep bench like the ’79 team so much as they needed Marlon Byrd. Letting him get away was the biggest mistake they made and I will never change my mind about it. Keeping Byrd alone would have made the biggest difference of any other move they could have made. He would have negated all the April hitting troubles, he would have made Starling Marte’s often injured body this season a none-event.
        He would have given Polanco longer to learn in triple A, he would have kept the Cutch injury from being the game cahnger it was, and also the loss of Pedro Alvarez’s home run bat would have been way easier to handle.

        Just one good outfield reserve, Marlon Byrd, who would have ended up playing mostly every day like ’79 fourth outfielders did, would have changed so much this season. Also one good starter-quality infield reserve, like a Emilio Bonifacio type, could have saved all the run production problems the Pirates encountered.

        That’s all I’m saying they blew it on this year. They never addressed these two glaring needs and it would not have broke their bank to have done so.
        And all that fuss about pitching would have not needed to have happened.

        They would have had more runs in the ends of games so that the bullpen problems would not have been such a factor. All the one-run games they lost this year may have never happened.

        • If you change one thing, you change other things. Having Byrd might have helped. But how many RBI would Byrd have had without Josh Harrison at the top of the lineup? You play Byrd most days, you likely never get around to giving Harrison the opportunity he had – remember the reason he stuck was because he was inserted into RF. And from a WAR standpoint, you’re exactly the same.

          Can’t look at these things in a vacuum. IMO, the biggest need for Bucs in offseason were a starter and a leadoff option. We got the latter. On the pitching, we didn’t need to pay a ton for an AJ. Any innings eater would’ve been fine instead of throwing Wandy out there.

          Simple way to look at this is Bucs in April/May. In 1 and 2 run games, Bucs were 20-16. That’s fine. In games decided by 3 or more runs, Bucs were 5-14. That’s more a pitching issue than an offensive issue.

          • The team got their starters. They picked up Volquez in free agency and traded for Worley.

            Also, given his track record, Wandy Rodriguez deserved a chance to see if he could still pitch. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to perform. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if some team invites him to Spring Training next year, if he wants to continue his pitching career.

            • The Pirates opened the season with a rotation that was not playoff contender caliber. The Volquez reclamation project wasn’t yet ready for prime time and Wandy was a huge “if”. Worley was still working out his issues in AAA. Basically Bucs started the season with 3 proven starters. Not good enough.

              • The Pirates started the year with a rotation of Liriano, Cole, Morton, Rodriguez, and Volquez. At some point or another in 2013, 4 out of 5 of those guys were part of a playoff caliber rotation. As it turns out, the question mark has been the best pitcher on the team over the course of the season thus far.

                • An innings workhorse, .500-ish W-L, 4-ish ERA would’ve been sufficient. Your basic Jason Vargas type of guy. Heck, even a Correia. Someone whose role was simply to keep you in the game, not dominate. I’m not suggesting Cumpton not that he couldn’t do it, but because he hadn’t yet over a full season.

                  More importantly for the Bucs situation, a guy you could easily flip before the deadline once Volquez was re-established and a Cumpton or Worley was ready for prime time.

                  If you honestly thought going into this season that Wandy was going to be an innings workhorse with a 4-ish ERA after hearing about diagnoses of arthritis/forearm issues, then you were in the 1% who believed that.

        • Byrd is an above average, but not great, hitter. However, he’s also at an age where decline is to be expected. Paying him the kind of money the Phillies paid him was too risky. While he’s still performing fairly well, his numbers this year are down. The way the team was struggling at the plate in the early going this season, Byrd would not have made that big a difference; for that matter, Babe Ruth wouldn’t have made that big a difference!

          Furthermore, Byrd was brought in as a rental to play while Marte was hurt. You’re forgetting that Tabata put up offensive numbers as good as Byrd’s last September. Based on his performance late last year, Tabata should have been starting in right field at the start of this season instead of giving Snider off days on the rare occasion the team faced a left handed starting pitcher.

          As for that starter quality infielder, Barmes’ offensive numbers are only slightly less than Bonifacio’s. So, they had that guy, but he was injured for a while.

  3. I had a bad feeling about that Cards series going in. Oh well. To me that series saw every glitch/flaw/chink in their armour played out over three games.
    Wasted strong starting performance : Game 1, Game 2
    Scored early and stop scoring runs: Game 1
    Offense cuts lead and gets them back into game; Bullpen IMMEDIATELY gives it right back Game 2
    Shaky starter in the 7th with bad inning: Game 1
    Lack of bunting and timely hitting to score 1 run: Game 1, Game 2 (lead off double in the 8th with the heart of the order up….NOTHING and Game (lead off man on FIVE INNINGS and can’t get a run home, in 7th another lead off double) 3
    Poor at bats by key players in key situations: All 3
    Cutch having a poorly timed mini slump: All 3
    The optimist in me hopes they got all that bad karma out in one bad series. Let’s go pound the Cubs!

    • The Cardinals showed their high level of talent in our series. One instance, against Melancon, with two out and a runner at 1B. The guy manages to score on two singles. Previously in the game, with no out Polanco works a walk, and cannot score. With no outs.

      Previous game, Cardinals score three runs in the 7th against Cole, then we have runners at 1st and 2nd, no outs. And Snider, Harrison and Tabata swing at every ball (no strikes) thrown and do not get the runner home.

  4. No, they are not knocked out of the playoffs. There are reasons why they should make the playoffs and there are reasons why they won’t make the playoffs, none of which are discussed here. Records of teams they are going to play don’t mean much the rest of the way, teams that the Pirates have played before don’t matter much. What does matter is the Pirates going for it all, something they have not done yet, The Cards definitely have turned up the wick, the Pirates are still playing May baseball, shower up and wash today off, that attitude won’t work the rest of the way. They have to knock people down when necessary, Huntington has got to get in Hurdles face about managing for tomorrow instead of today, Hurdle alone cost the Pirates a couple of these games. When you can sit in your living room chair and know when a pitcher is done and he doesn’t, something is wrong, I have heard it all, a manager has a thousand things on his mind, but there should be only one thing on his mind, I have the lead and I am not letting it go if I have to use the whole pitching staff, Hurdle is pitching guys two innings that are not geared to pitch two innings, especially when he has a fleet of pitchers in the pen, he is taking starters deeper than they should be going with them, he either does not recognize a pitcher that is done or he is worrying too much about the game situation, something that does not matter if you get behind, because the other manager is going to throw everything he has at you to keep his lead. When I look at the Cards and the Pirates, I see one team fighting and clawing every inch of the way and the other on cruise control, guess who is who?

      • No I am going to rip Hurdle for using Hughes for 2 innings and Melancon for 2 innings. As far as Wong is concerned that goes on Martin, he called the pitch exactly where you don’t want to throw it to Wong, Cole put it where the glove was with something on it. At least Volquez had the smarts to pitch away from Wong with breaking stuff.

  5. They went 2-4 against the Cards over the last week and very easily could have gone 4-2 with a couple of breaks. I have no doubt that they could advance in a playoff round against the Cards. The problem is that they’d likely have to face the Dodgers or Nats first, and I’m less optimistic about their success against those two.

    • The Pirates won the season series with the Dodgers 5-2. They were 3-4 against the Nats, but all three games in DC were 1 run games that came down to the last at bat, including 2 walk off wins by the Nationals; a break here or there and they would have won that season series. If they can get to the playoffs, they have the talent to compete with anyone in the league, but they have to play well to win.

      • Bit misleading to use season series with LAD without mentioning we never faced Kershaw. You face him at least twice in a playoff series. And its almost a guaranteed 1 loss if not 2. They dont have the pitching to compete with LAD unless Liriano and Cole both start being more consistent.

        • No need to get your undies in a bunch! I was just stating the facts in reply to the pessimism should the Pirates make the playoffs and play the Nats or Dodgers.

          Kershaw is tough, but beatable. Also, assuming no lengthy gaps due to weather or other factors, you’ll only face Kershaw more than once if the series goes more than 3 or probably 4 games.

          While Burnett’s no Kershaw, last year I remember many folks thinking the Pirates would win game 1 of the division series because he (Burnett) was starting. We know how well that went.

  6. I never felt confident in this team from the start. I never felt like it was complete team.
    There has been a lot of good individual story’s and some not so good.
    Whatever happens this year will happen I’m looking forward to what happens between the end of the season and opening day 2015.
    A lot of question marks need to get answered.

    • Offensively this team could be tops in the NL for 2-3 more years. Assuming a bit of normal regression from Harrison, we still likely see better performance from Polanco and similar from Marte, Cutch, Walker and Mercer. Any upgrade at 1B from Pedro+platoon partner means the offense is rather legit. Losing Martin hurts the pitching staff more than the lineup as he isnt a good bet to hit .290 again, so the offense from him may be replaceable

      • I am excited for the future of this franchise. People like you assume I am down on the team. I am NOT.
        I root for this team every game.
        But I don’t lose my common sense just because I want my team to win.
        Maybe you revel in blind faith. I look at reality.
        This team is not ready yet.
        I am hoping for that next season NH puts a more complete team on the field on opening day.

      • I have read a lot of your comments coming from you all I can do is laugh out loud. You are one of these people who spout verbose statements while hiding behind a keyboard. You are a typical coward.

  7. I’m so sick of hearing about people saying the season is over. Do you already forget what its like to play meaningless baseball in August and September? Until the Pirates are mathematically eliminated, the season is not over. We have 13 games left against teams that are well under .500 and 7 against 2 teams we are chasing.

  8. No, I would say we may have just as likely missed the playoffs because of games we played back early in the season when we gave games away when we had leads to the Brewers and some other teams.

  9. they lost the last 4 games by a total of 5 runs. They didn’t play badly. they just lost.

    yeah the recent slide hurts the playoff chances, but i don’t think it means that the team is any less talented than it was before the slide. I don’t think it means that they’d be any more or less effective in a playoff series or even less hopeful in a series vs the Cardinals. They performed admirably vs the Cards. Just lost.

    • we should also consider in three of our last four losses, we had our pitchers go into the 5th inning with no-hitters. Timely hitting is needed. That’s how St. Louis swept us.

      • The Cardinals swept us because Pirates pitchers were unable to record outs against the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers when they were batting:

        Wainwright: 1 for 3 with three RBI’s (final score 6 to 4)
        Lance Lynn: 1 for 2 with a run scored (final score 5 to 4)

        There are of course a lot of other ways the Pirates did not execute:
        Most notably: 1 for 18 batting with runners in scoring position

  10. The only problem with the logic is that it is not the same Cubs team as we have seen the last year and a half. They swept the O’s and Brewers recently at home. The frustrating thing about their last 6 losses is that they have about 4 one run losses and I think the max has been 3 runs. They have been in every game, but just can’t hold a lead or come all the way back.

    • Castro has a high ankle sprain, among other injuries. The have bad pitching and rookies that tend to either hit it 430 feet or miss it completely. Playing decent recently but not that scary of a team overall.

  11. They’ve been in the thick of it the whole time and will be until the end. Surpassing last year would have been very hard with the injuries we’ve had but it’s so much better than 3-17 years ago that I don’t care.

    • SK: And we are good at that, but we used to do that with years, not days, so maybe there is hope. Was there a bigger loss this year than the game on Monday? So huge of a game starting a 3 game series on the road and a 2 run lead in the 7th with our best on the mound and looking very good? Luckily, I have been busy doing other things, but is Gregory Polanco injured or are we still negotiating? Should we be making a long term deal with Edinson Volquez? Hard to do anything when our first 3 batters are 0 for 12, and ‘Cutch is now 0 for his last 8 – we cannot hardly play competitively without him leading the way.

  12. Mediocrity has kept them in the race this long and it’s probably going to be good enough to keep them in it for a while longer. They better make hay over the next couple weeks though.

  13. They still have a decent chance to sneak into the playoffs, but that is mostly due to the expanded number of teams in the playoffs and the poor play of the other playoff contenders. This is a slightly above average team with some promise to do more in the next year or two, but if their top prospects do not make an immediate impact, or if management is not willing to bring in a top notch player or two via free agency…then this team will just tease us.

    I am not counting them out from making the playoffs since I think this team does have a fair amount of grit, but if they do, I doubt they will make any sort of impact. I hope they prove me wrong…I’ll be watching.

  14. I don’t see how this stretch knocks them out of the playoff picture in the least bit. With 3 games against the brewers and 4 against the braves, they still pretty much control their destiny for the second wild card. And besides those games, the other remaining 16 games are against losing teams. I think with that schedule they have the best shot at the second wild card, unless they get swept by one of the teams ahead of them.

    • I agree that it’s a positive being able to go directly against two teams Bucs are competing with for a WC slot. However, both the Cubbies and Phils were .500+ in August.

      Bucs are 14-17 since August 1.

      Here’s how our upcoming opponents have done during that time (with # of games vs):
      Cubs 19-14 (6)
      Phils 16-14 (4)
      Braves 15-16 (4)
      Brewers 15-16 (3)
      BoSox 13-18 (3)
      Reds 12-19 (3)

      So despite what looks like an “easy” schedule, 10 of the remaining 23 games are vs teams that have played .500+ ball the past six weeks. Only six games are vs teams that have played worse than Bucs in that time.

      The Bucs do catch a small break in that Kyle Hendricks is not scheduled to pitch in either Cubs series. But they’re still day games and away – and we know Bucs have stunk this year in that situation.

      IMO, they’re not out of it unless they can’t take 2 of 3 vs Brewers. I’m not expecting SF to fold. I do think it’s possible things get worse for both the Braves and Brewers. But the Bucs have to play tighter, flawless fundamental baseball to grab that 2nd WC spot. Right now, they’re not.

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