WASHINGTON, D.C. — It appears that the 2018 version of the Pittsburgh Pirates are something of a streaky baseball team.
The Pirates lost their third straight game to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night, their second three-game or longer losing streak in the last 10 days. In between, the Pirates won five straight against the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
It’s been different root causes each time the Pirates have gone on a losing streak, with the offense scoring just five runs over four games in Philadelphia and the pitching and defense allowing 24 runs through three games in Washington.
Maybe they’re just streaky. The Pirates also started the season with a four-game winning streak, as well, giving them four streaks of three games or longer one way or the other so far this season.
“The numbers will tell you that’s what we are the last three series,” manager Clint Hurdle said on Wednesday night. “So there you go.”
In 2017, the Pirates had a total of 15 stretches of three or more consecutive wins or losses. This year’s club is on pace for roughly 24, so they are at least streakier than they were a year ago.
Interestingly enough, last year’s 75-87 squad had more winning streaks (nine) than losing streaks (six). What’s the old Andy Van Slyke quote?
“Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.”
The fact that the 2017 Pirates had more winning streaks than losing streaks and ended up seven games below .500 pretty well illustrates that point. Last season, the Pirates had an 0-6 stretch in May, another in mid-August and a 1-12 stretch that included an 0-7 streak in September. That’s a canyon.
The Pirates feel that they can be streaky and be good, as long as they avoid what happened last year.
“We’re not going to win 150 games,” pitcher Steven Brault said. “When we lose games, we feel like we’re pretty good at washing it and flushing it, although we have gone on some losing streaks. As long as you go on some winning streaks to make up for it, it’s OK. I think, as we go through the season, we’ll find what we need to do to really bounce back.”
Ivan Nova, the losing pitcher on Wednesday, said he feels it’s on some of the older players on what is a relatively young team in to make that happen.
“I’m going to be the cheerleader (Thursday) for sure,” he said. “It’s frustrating when you lose a game, but I won’t be frustrated for the whole week. I’ve got to be able to turn the page.”
Hurdle said that he hasn’t seen his team overreact to the extreme winning and losing environments of the last week and a half. Instead, he sees the kind of continues search for improvement, win or loss, that he’s looking for.
“I haven’t seen an emotional roller coaster from the guys,” he said. “The game shows you where you need to improve as we’ve talked about time and time again.”
The other seemingly apropos old baseball saying comes from Earl Weaver: “Momentum? Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.”
The best way to stop a losing streak is to get a top-notch pitching performance. So far, the Pirates starting pitchers have been below average, with a 4.06 staff ERA that comes in No. 11 in the National League.
Nova and Jameson Taillon, the two best pitchers on the staff, each lost games in D.C., though Taillon pitched fairly well in a 3-2 loss on Monday while Nova did not in Wednesday’s 9-3 shellacking.
Thursday’s starter Trevor Williams has a 2.29, the best on the staff outside untouched rookie Nick Kingham. But his xFIP of 5.04 is the worst of the current five.
If Williams’ results regress to the mean before Taillon (4.83 ERA) figures things out, the Pirates could be staring at a Grand Canyon situation.