It seems like any time the Pirates get close to the playoffs this year, they immediately decline and fall further back from the race. This becomes frustrating due to the fact that they’ve managed to claw their way back so many times, only to fall back again.

One of the recurring jokes in previous seasons was that the season was deemed over after a big loss, or a big series loss, or just a few losses in a row. That was a joke because the Pirates were still one of the best teams in baseball during those years, and you knew they were making the playoffs. This year, the “season is over” line is actually true, except the Pirates always seem to turn things around and revive their season that was flat lining.

Take a week ago, for example. They swept the Milwaukee Brewers over four games on the road, which is a pretty amazing accomplishment when you consider their history in Milwaukee. That put them half a game back for the second Wild Card spot. They then proceeded to lose six in a row to the Cubs and Brewers, falling back to 3.5 games out of the second spot.

This wasn’t a unique swing of events. They were 3.5 games back heading into that Milwaukee series, after losing five of six to Miami and Houston. Prior to that bad stretch, they were just one game out. That’s because they went on a nice 9-3 run, pulling themselves from three games back.

So now they’re back to that area where they’re about three games back, and they need a rebound. Fortunately, they still have the opportunity to make that rebound. The team they’re trailing is St. Louis, and they’re about to take them on for three games at home. Sweep the series, and they could be as close as a half game back, depending on what the Mets and Marlins do. Following that, they have four games at home against the Reds, four on the road against the Phillies, four on the road against the Reds, and three on the road against the Brewers.

Their schedule is set up in a way where they should be able to pull themselves back in the race. The problem is that they’ve had this type of scheduling advantage a lot in the second half, and they haven’t been able to consistently take advantage of it. They haven’t been able to beat the teams they need to pass in the Wild Card race (losing a three game sweep against the Marlins), and they haven’t been able to beat up on teams that a contender should beat up on (losing two of three against the Braves, getting swept twice by the Brewers).

The season is running out of dates. If the Pirates are going to do something, they need to do it now. Because their final week and a half consists of the Nationals, Cubs, and Cardinals, and that’s not the area of the schedule where you want to make up a lot of ground. It’s also an area of the schedule where you’d preferably like to have some breathing room while sitting in a playoff spot. But for that to happen, the Pirates are going to have to get something they haven’t had much this year: Consistent production that will eliminate bad stretches.

Here are the top stories from the week, with none of them including Pirates victories. Hopefully that changes next week.

10. Jung Ho Kang is expected to return tomorrow. Brian Peloza covered his rehab start with Indianapolis, and wrote about the progress he was making heading into the weekend.

9. Last weekend, Gift Ngoepe and Dovydas Neverauskas were arrested in Toledo. I had the full coverage on the arrests this week, along with a column on what other young players can learn from this. This incident probably won’t bar Ngoepe and Neverauskas from the majors for life, but might cost them a shot at making it up this year.

8. The Pirates drafted Braeden Ogle in the fourth round this year, and the lefty has shown some promise in the GCL, ending his season with some good numbers and a promising fastball. I talked with Ogle, and recapped the progression he made this season.

7. Ke’Bryan Hayes returned recently from a back injury, but suffered a setback when the doctors found he had a cracked rib. He’s currently out for the season, hoping that he will be able to return during instructs.

6. The Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this week. Austin Meadows and Trevor Williams will headline the Pirates’ group. Sean McCool got the reactions from Eric Wood, Jin-De Jhang, and Montana DuRapau on their selections.

5. The Arquimedes Caminero trade was completed this week, with the Pirates receiving two lottery ticket pitchers in the lower levels. I broke down the early opinions and rankings of the pitchers, while also discussing our process for ranking new players in trades like this.

4. The Ivan Nova deal was also completed, with the Pirates sending out Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley. Alan Saunders asked Neal Huntington about the returns in both the Nova and Caminero deals during Huntington’s meeting with the media this week.

3. The calendar flipped over to September, and rosters expanded this week. The Pirates called up five players, expanding their roster to 30. Alan Saunders wrote about the new additions to the team, and the roles they are expected to fill.

2. Tyler Glasnow made a start with Indianapolis this week, after being optioned back to the level a week ago. Brian Peloza wrote about what Glasnow needed to do to turn around his recent command problems, and provided a live recap of the start where he walked four in 5.2 innings.

1. Mitch Keller was promoted to Bradenton this week, and didn’t miss a beat to continue his breakout season. I covered his debut live with Wilbur Miller (with that Prospect Watch also including double-coverage of Braeden Ogle and Max Kranick), and wrote about him later in the week, pointing out what a rare prospect he has been.

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  1. Going into the season, I thought we had:
    1) Quality outfield
    2) Great bench (one of the best that I can remember)
    3) Good infield, but question at 1st.
    4) Good catching with depth, but I guess not enough.
    5) At least 4 good arms in the bullpen
    6) At least two good starters with help on the way.

    Sorry, I don’t think I was that far off.

    The lack of results from this team is disappointing.
    Someone will be called to task.

    Folks may not like Mr. Nutting, but he expects
    results and I would think that he is not happy
    and as a businessman knows what must be done.

  2. No more tears or false hopes. They are what they are! A mediocre ball club who is not a contender this year. Not at all. They went cheap on their pitching in the off season and stars who were expected to come up big fell way below expectations (Cutch, Liriano and Cole). That’s all!

  3. One thing that has baffled me all year is why Marte is not in the leadoff spot. Marte has put himself into scoring position or better 95 times this season. If that isn’t a leadoff hitter I don’t know what is…and neither do the Pirates.

      • Even if he had 16 HR right now he would still have the 47sb and all the xbh. The inability to draw walks isn’t a problem at all when you one of the top guys in the majors in getting yourself in scoring position. Throw in the average and bonus hbp and he is a major chore for pitchers to deal with.

  4. The Pirates have a losing record since the trade deadline. They haven’t been “in the race” since they threw in the towel. I don’t care what the standing say now. They aren’t competing for anything at the moment. I don’t believe any team has ever made the wildcard without winning 87 games. Do you see them going 20 and seven over the rest of the season? If you do, you’re not watching the games at all

  5. In my mind the there are two defining dates to this to this season…..July 30th and the trade of rock solid All-Star closer Mark Melancon and the August 29th 13th inning crushing loss to the Cubs.
    In the month prior to the Melancon trade the Pirates were the hottest team in basebnall. After the deadline deals the Pirtaes went into a slide. “next man up” Tony Watson is just not the same quality closer….four blown saves, six home runs, 2.68 ERA, 4.04 FIP. Melancon .61 ERA and 1.65 FIP since the trade. The argument that we “had to get something” for Melancon rings hollow when you look at the negative effect of the trade this year.
    So we go into Chicago after a sweep against the Brewers and the bullpen blows a three run lead topped off by TW throwing a gopher ball in the 9th. Locke, obviously gassed, is sent out for a fourth inning, the 13th. Why? So Clint and Neil can remain true to the guaranteed night off for Bastardo and others. Just plain stupid….how can that policy be a lock in extra innings in a game of this magnitude.
    Of course Cole and Cutch have given us down years but the Wild Card “was” in reach in a very strange year.
    I’ll be there against the Cardinals, but we didn’t have to be in this position of desperation.

    • Anyone who thought the bullpen wouldn’t be worse without Melancon was completely out of touch with reaiity. Feliz’s peripherals had been going downhill and Tony Watson hasn’t had good numbers vs righties since the first half of 2015.

        • Michael I tell you.. the thing that drives me crazy about the Melancon trade isn’t so much the return(I like Rivero and Hearn) but the mixed message of trading one of most reliable closers in game(147:19 SD/MD ratio over last 4 years!!!!) to improve the future and then you trade legitimate prospects for Nova. Make up your mind. Because the net impact of those 2 trades was a wash at best and you probably still made your team worse. I’d have less of a problem with the Nova trade IF they would have held onto MM. And I’d have a less of a problem with the MM trade IF they wouldn’t have dealt Tarp/Polo for Nova. But the 2 of them together I don’t like.

          • You are right that if we keep Melancon and get Nova we are a better team this year and I would bet not looking up at the wild card spot.
            We gave up four of our top 30 prospects for a Nova rental(which is working), Liriano salary dump(used in part to sign Freese), and get Hutchison. The FO states they were swapping Liriano out for Nova and that is working. When we miss the playoffs and Nova signs elsewhere this puts a big bright light on Hutchison.
            But the return for Melancon is a net negative this year……no question. And it has had a snowball effect on the bullpen.

            • And this isn’t Monday Morning quarterbacking with the bullpen. It should have been plain to see based on peripherals and domino effect that this bullpen would take a significant hit without MM- and it has. But many people thought Feliz/Watson would be fine in the 8/9 role. And that doesn’t touch the other issues of asking less capable reliever to pitch higher leverage innings.

    • Another thing about “having to get something for Melancon” Too many people seem to think we are assured a playoff spot and deeper run next year. The reality is even next year we are probably lucky to get a WC spot. Anyone think the Cubs or Cards are getting worse? Not to mention Nats, Mets etc and whoever else gets hot next year. If we would have snuck in this year playing hot baseball I think our chances of winning it all as good or better as they will be next year(because our most likely route will once again be a WC).

      As much talent as Rivero has he has played a prominent part in 3 losses(his 3 meltdowns came in game against Braves/Marlins/Brewers). In 2 of those games we had the lead in late innings. The Brewer game was tough spot but he didn’t pitch well.

      6/3 SD MD ratio is not what you want from a high leverage reliever when chasing a WC spot.

    • I agree with the turning points but not quite the analysis. The Pirates were 6-5 after the all-star break with Mark Melancon blowing two out of five save opportunities.

      What bothers me about this iteration of the Pirates is their “pouty” effort after those trades. They don’t care about the long range plan or minor leaguers (McGuire Ramirez, and players to be named). They should have looked at the trade deadline from the MLB perspective:
      1. Losing a 5+ ERA pitcher who was hurting them each time he took the mound and a quality closer in Melancon
      2. Gaining a quality starting pitcher (Nova) and a late inning reliever who just destroyed them in two weeks earlier in Washington (Rivera)

    • I agree on the Chicago loss. As soon as they blew that game, I would have bet my mortgage on the sweep. In fact, I barely watched the games on my DVR! That one was just a soul crusher

  6. Of all the failures this season I think possibly the worst thing about 2016 is glasnows development coming to a complete crawl. Really bad news. Anyone actually believe he will be throwing decent changeup by next July?

    • I’ve felt, pretty much since end of April, that Glasnow might be best used as closer-in-waiting. I’d have zero issue working him into the back end of the pen with an eye on Glasnow/Rivero being the new Watson/Melancon in some order.

      I just don’t expect much more development from him as a competent, smart starting pitcher.

  7. Of the starting, offense, and bullpen 2/3 have been complete crap all top often . Offense get going and rotation and pen goes to shit. Rotation picks it up but offense and pen sucks. Very rare to have 2/3 or all 3 clicking. Bad year for many players, clint and nh. Just bad all around .

  8. Yes, disappointing season, but before we drive a stake in Huntington’s heart, let’s consider this: The Pirates have at least remained at .500 despite getting NO serious production from 1b, 3b and centerfield! Those are three key positions on any team. And they’ve done this with a pitching staff that is currently completely revamped! So what does that say about the basic core of the team?

    I think the core remains strong including the other positions, the bench and the relief corps. What’s needed, seems to me, is 1) fixing the starting pitching for next year, something Huntington failed to do this year, and, 2) getting decent production out of the three key positions at 1b, 3b and centerfield.

    So if Josh Bell is ready; if somebody can play 3b next year (Kang and/or Freese) and McCutchen has a comeback year at age 29/30, then the Pirates can compee again.

    • Valid points. I guess we’ll see how the offseason goes and what type of additions are made. With that said, I still think this franchise has a ways to go before being a serious contender. I just do! We’re now past the point of being content with a winning record.

      The franchise might be developing some pitching talent, but to me it’s a vastly overrated farm system. I can bring up other organizations like the Indians and Red Sox that validate my point. We simply are not producing impactful talent that is transforming this team just yet. I don’t even think the farm system has enough talent to even match the recent success of the above mentioned organizations. I mean, seriously, how much hitting talent do we really have as a franchise? The ML roster has zero power (I love Polanco so he’s excluded from my rant) and their new strategy of getting on base and driving in runs has been a total disappointment as this season draws closer to the end. Maybe Josh Bell adds to Polanco’s talent and becomes the next missing piece to this offense going forward. But right now the Pirates offense stinks!! And one glance at the farm system shouldn’t give any fan reason for hope. There’s ZERO power down there as well.

      Regardless, I guess I’m supposed to be happy with the way things are now as opposed to the 20+ years of misery I endured as a fan. And there’s total truth to that. I’m still thrilled to finally say that my beloved Bucs are winners once again. But I also don’t want this organization to be the Oakland A’s of recent years. I want this team to be the St. Louis Cardinals of recent years.

      I hope my dream becomes a reality in the upcoming years. I want a championship so badly!

      • Top notch post.

        The lack of power is very concerning. There’s little chance of winning when you score once or twice. Without the offseason additions of Matt Joyce, Freese and even SRod this team’s HR totals would be pathetic.

        There are multiple problems but how can they be addressed? Hopefully this offseason doesn’t see another cross your fingers and hope approach.

        • Thanks, Bobby! And I totally agree with your points. This upcoming offseason is going to be a crucial one. The approach of the FO entering this season cannot be duplicated. I honestly think this team isn’t going to hit its stride until sometime between 2018-2020.

    • I agree. Fans often get swept in the emotion of the season. Had we swept the Brewers this past weekend then the comments section would be a 180 from its current standing. The core to this team is relatively young, talented, and affordable with many years of control left. A whole year of the current rotation and josh bell, Cutch not slumping, plus a bp piece or two makes this an elite team. As good as the Cubs? Maybe not but certainly competitive.

  9. I blame this season on N.H. He killed all chances of winning by putting together a terrible pitching staff then doubled down by trading away prospects and getting little in return. At least it will result in more pool money to help them rebuild.

    • The trades were an illustration of dumb and dumber. If you like Nova, accept this season is blown which was already obvious and then sign him as a FA where the only cost is $$. If you want to trade prospects, get a reasonable return. It feels like NH really lost it. And getting hammered 10 – 0 by a miserable Milwaukee team was the capper! Something is up with the whole dynamic of the team and it doesn’t look like an easy fix at all. Glasnow does not seem like he’s near ready without sufficient command of secondary pitches. They need to get the BP fixed too!!!

      • NH is in the “buck stops here” position, but this team has some major issues in the dugout. To play this badly at home, 1 – 8 in the last 9 home games, tells me they do not have their heads into the game, and CH damn well better make some changes in his staff.

        We have Rookies out there on the mound giving us 5 and 6 innings and only giving up one run apiece, and getting ZILCH from the offense. The pennant/WC stretch and the post-season is where the better teams scratch and claw to score one run at a time. TEAM first and everything else second.

        NH does not call the game strategy, and it is either CH or one of his minions that cannot seem to get this team to buy-in to what it takes to be a playoff team. Stretch run baseball is not fun, and they cannot come out of that clubhouse with anything on their mind other than the game, No grab-ass, just serious business – like how you are being paid.

  10. Good luck with that one! Unfortunately it has become apparent that: “The Pirates just aren’t that good this year”. The starting pitching was categorically bad for a good part of the year, and at the moment the entire rotation that started the year is gone, with Liriano and Niese gone altogether, Nicasio in the bullpen where he belonged to start with, Locke banished and likely to be non-tendered and Cole hurt. Add very little production from Jung Ho Kang this year (and who knows what his future is, if convicted he will deservedly be gone for good), Cutch having an off-year by his standards and the bullpen erratic (bad for long stretches) and young starters (Kuhl, Brault) that’s what you get – pretty darn average. And very disappointing, really the bleakest season since the collapsed at the end of 2012. Taillon, Polanco and Marte are about the only bright spots. Disappointing because they are looking up a very steep cliff competing against the Cubs’ young talent and the Cards’ organisztional strength. They won’t be competitive next year without some significant changes, more than just a full year of Bell and Taillon.

    • Looks like you nailed it.

      It would be interesting to get answers to your question about significant changes.

      For me, if Nova doesn’t regress too much and can be signed for one year, signing him for next year would be a good start. There are enough good pieces in the BP if a top of the line closer is obtained. It probably can’t be done anytime in the near future but I’d like to see a catcher bought in with a little more offensive fireworks than Cervelli.

      But those additions would be costly. Even with the touted FF of 2016, there would be doubt that money will be spent in 2017.

      • I seem to have a hard time understanding why folks state in terms of Nova, “and can be signed for one year”. I think the probability of that has to be less than 5% and I think that could be too high of a possibility. He is coming into his age 30 season and healthy at this point. With the seemingly weak FA Starting Pitching this offseason this is a good chance for him to secure 3 to 4 years and pretty much stabilise his financial life (has to be thinking Happ money as a potential starting point). I’m sure he and his team are thinking that way…. Such is the nature of starting pitching in MLB…

        • Exactly. Weakening the bullpen while sending out legit prospects for nova wasn’t smart. Nor was sending broxton and supak out for rogers.

          • Well, I certainly don’t think your post JW was meant to be a response to my post, for sure, I was simply stating a post about a possible Nova contact so no clue where this came from, but it happens 🙂 :)….

        • I think (at least I hope) that NH learned his lesson last year that just because he values X pitcher as being worth Y dollars, the rest of MLB doesn’t agree.

          The pitching market is what it is. With the ridiculous amount of cash flowing in MLB (and salaries still being only around 40% of costs league-wide), the value of MLB starting-caliber pitching – especially for FAs in the 29-31 range – will only continue to increase.

          As what should’ve happened with Happ, if you identify a pitcher you can work with who you believe will succeed with your team in your park, then you pay up to keep that guy.

          If you equate 1 WAR to $8 million, Nova’s team should be asking for $12 (based on fWAR) to $15 (based on bWAR) million based on simply his career WAR/service time.

          If Nova played the entire season for the Bucs, he’d be the innings leader with 134.2 IP (Liriano has 136.1 for Bucs/Jays, next is Locke with 121.0). That also has value.

          Just pay the man. He’s not going to give you great xFIP numbers as he’s not a strikeout guy. But he’s efficient as he works ahead in the count, and with a decent IF defense, he should continue to thrive here.

          • It’s a real good post… For me, a Happ lover that some know (that didn’t come out right 🙂 ), I don’t have interest in Nova, I”m fine using assets in other ways guessing we have a real payroll constraint. I was glad to pay Happ, Nova not so much, I think he will get 4 years and not interested and we have options, now…. Didn’t last year, at the beginning of the season… What do I know 🙂

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