First Pitch: This is Not the Pirates Team That Was Expected

Coming into the 2015 season, it looked like the Pittsburgh Pirates would once again have a strong offense. They were returning a lot of the guys who made the 2014 offense so great, and had a strong bench, which would have kept the offense going in the event of injuries or struggles. The weakness looked to be the pitching staff, particularly the starting rotation. The rotation didn’t exactly look weak, but it was definitely seen as the low point on the team.

Two weeks later, the exact opposite has happened. Coming into tonight, the Pirates starting pitching ranked third in baseball with a 2.90 xFIP. Meanwhile, the offense has struggled, and doesn’t look at all like the 2014 team. They came into the night ranked 28th in BB%, and had the highest strikeout rate in the majors. They also finished in the bottom third in wOBA (.277) and wRC+ (80).

“We’ve really pitched well, we followed our game plan well. Just find a way to get our guys rolling on offense,” Clint Hurdle said after the game.

Tonight’s 1-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers represented a low point. It was the second shutout in a row. The Pirates have also gone without drawing a walk since Saturday.

“They’re throwing strikes,” Hurdle said on the lack of walks. “You follow the game, track it at the end, and look. They’re on the edges, they’re close. They’re making pitches, they’re getting ahead.”

It’s very unlikely that this team will continue this horrible pace. They’re slumping right now, and because it’s early in the season, it becomes more noticeable. Hurdle said the key to breaking out of the slump was to keep playing.

“We’re just a tick off, and a tick off is a lot sometimes at the Major League level,” Hurdle said on the offensive struggles.

I don’t think the offense will continue struggling this much. This is the second year in a row that the team has gotten off to a horrible start offensively. There might be something to that, but for now there are too few games to draw any conclusions. Perhaps the day off tomorrow will help the bats get back on track. The team has a lot of upside offensively, as we saw last year. They put an extra focus on their on-base percentage, and the result was one of the best offensive teams in baseball. They have what it takes to do it again.

As for the pitching, I never thought it would be bad, but didn’t expect it to be this good. I think this would be the best case scenario, featuring Liriano and Cole pitching well, and A.J. Burnett bouncing back. The pitching is helping to make up for the lack of offense, although it just makes it all the more frustrating to see the Pirates losing such low-scoring games.

The hope would be that the Pirates keep the pitching on track and get the offense back to the 2014 levels. It’s possible, but if it’s going to happen, it needs to happen quick, especially with 10 of their next 13 games against NL Central opponents.

**Tonight was my final night in Pittsburgh covering the Pirates, although I’ll have more from my three days here starting tomorrow. We’ll also have more Pirates coverage coming up, which I’ll talk about in tomorrow’s site update. I’m heading to Altoona tomorrow afternoon, where I will be covering the next four games with our new Altoona writer, Sean McCool.

**I just wanted to mention that some of you have had problems with passwords, or staying logged in. I’ve been trying to fix all of the bugs in the software. On the latter issue, the site is set up to keep everyone logged in for 30 days, so I’m not sure why that is a problem (and it’s a problem for me as well). Some of this might be due to the site design, which might get a change when I get home, updating to a cleaner look that will eventually have no ad networks.

**Prospect Watch: Four Hits For Barrett Barnes, West Virginia Loses A No-Hitter. A no-hitter is rare. Losing a no-hitter? I don’t even know how you’d feel about that. As for Barnes, he’s got a lot of potential with the bat, and a lot of upside if he can stay healthy.

**Mark Melancon Comments On His Drop In Velocity. His velocity was down again tonight, although he was effective. I think the big concern here is whether he can continue to get outs with a lower velocity.

**Injury Updates: Chris Stewart Close To A Return, Morton Pitching On Saturday. Expect some roster moves after the off-day.

**Stephen Tarpley Building Back Up After Shoulder Soreness. An update on one of the players acquired in the Travis Snider deal.

**Jordan Luplow Is Heading To West Virginia. It will be interesting to see how he does at third base.

**Early Reactions From Pitchers On The Pitch Clock At The Triple-A Level. Ryan Palencer takes a look at the new pace of play changes MLB is trying out in the minors.

**Morning Report: What’s The Harm In Aggressive Promotions?

First Pitch

  • I’m not worried about anything yet. It’s been 8 games. If our O is still this putrid come Memorial Day I will be concerned. Yet if our pitching is still this good on Memorial Day nobody will care about the O because we will probably be 37-23 or something like that. Very little matters pre-Memorial Day the has a massive impact unless you are something like 37-23 or 23-37

  • weltytowngang
    April 16, 2015 5:01 pm

    They were too focused on prospects and new acquisitions playing to be be observed and the regulars didn’t get enough playing time to be ready for the regular season. Now they have to play their way into playing condition.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    April 16, 2015 8:54 am

    To get shut down by Simon is a real low point….

  • Problems are always magnified at the beginning of the season. It is only 1/18th of the season. It’d be nice to be 6-3, but we’ll be okay.

  • A lot of folks seem to assert that the offense was “great” last year, I disagree. It was top three in a mediocre league in which run scoring has been regressing for years, but far from “great”. They have work to do. I think they can be good, but it’s far from a sure thing. I think pitching and defense have always been, and always will be, this team’s strength.

  • I was hoping that the pirates would get of to a fast start so they did not have to play catch up ball the first three months of the season and while it’s still about ten games away from a horrible start all the swinging for the fences intead of getting on base is getting very frustrating to watch you have to hit and the homers will come ya can’t try and hit homers and wait for the hits as for the pitching it is as good as I thought it would be the pirates have a very talented and motivated staff although if the offence does not pull the proverbial rag out of their bleeps it may start to erode the pitching staff as well. Here’s to hoping they get it together soon.

  • Saying this is not the team that was expected is a major understatement. I did not think there would be a problem with the Rotation coming in, with or without Morton, and the SP’s have pitched very well with only one bad game I can remember. The hitting on the other hand has been absolutely terrible. 18 innings without a run is pitiful, and there is no other way to say it.

    And, NO, I do not agree that the pitching the Pirates have seen so far has been stellar by any means. Most are working the outer third, and, for the most part, we still think we can pull that pitch. Wake up and get back to basics – see the ball, hit it where it is pitched, put it in play.

  • I’m not worried about the team’s slow start with the bats. It’s pretty typical for pitching to be ahead of hitting in April. As temperatures go up, so too will batting averages.