September 10th, 2016. The Pirates had just lost, dropping their record to 69-71. They weren’t technically eliminated from the Wild Card race, but they sat 5.5 games back, with two teams between them and the two Wild Card leaders, and less than a month to go.

The next day, Sean Rodriguez got a start. That started a span where he started 20 of the next 22 games to finish the season. He started two games in a row, sat for one, then started the next 18 games, before finally being benched for the final game of the season.

The Pirates did hang around for a bit. They were 77-76 on September 23rd, and 3.5 games out of the Wild Card with three teams ahead of them. One of those teams, the Cardinals, they would face in the final series of the season. But only a few days later, on September 27th, they were eliminated.

The Pirates were technically in the race for most of September that year. But their realistic chances of winning a Wild Card spot were slim. They were hovering around .500 at the start of the month, dipping below the .500 mark after the first week of September. They not only needed to start winning at a rate much greater than their season record, but they needed to pass several other teams in the process.

Rodriguez started through it all. He started when they were trying to contend, and he started after they were eliminated. It made some sense. Rodriguez was having a career season, and if you wanted to try and win, starting him made sense. The Pirates were also trying to re-sign him for the following season — which they didn’t do, but ended up getting him back in an August 2017 trade — so that added some insight into why they kept playing him.

It’s not that the team didn’t have other options. I wrote many times that September that Alen Hanson should be getting starts, especially when it looked like the Pirates needed a miracle to actually contend. Hanson was up all September, but got just one start and 18 plate appearances until the Pirates were eliminated. And then he sat another game before getting four starts to finish the season.

The Pirates’ handling of Hanson looks bad right now with his .925 OPS in San Francisco, but that topic is saved for another article, as it’s due to issues well beyond the team playing Sean Rodriguez so much that month.

But now, almost two years later, the Pirates can learn something from that situation.

The team is currently 36-41. They’re nine games out of the NL Central, and six games out of the Wild Card. It’s a very similar situation to that September 2016 club, where they’re still technically in striking distance to the playoffs, despite a below .500 record and several teams ahead of them. This time there are more teams behind them (4) than ahead of them (5, plus the two Wild Card teams). It would probably be better looking at the top draft picks in 2019 than looking at travel plans for October.

And over the last three games, Sean Rodriguez has started.

This is where the similarities to 2016 end. Rodriguez isn’t having a career year. Far from it. He’s having one of the worst years of his career, with a .544 OPS. He’s 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts in his last seven games, fueled by going 0-for-9 with six strikeouts in the last three games — again, all of those were starts.

It made some sense in 2016 to keep playing Rodriguez, because he was having a career season. That reason doesn’t exist in 2018.

It made some sense in hindsight that they played him because they wanted to try and bring him back that offseason. That shouldn’t be a factor this year, as they have plenty of young replacements in Triple-A who can take his place today, and probably produce better results.

Not to mention, the team should have learned a lesson that offseason when Rodriguez signed with Atlanta — giving a guy playing time isn’t going to get him back, because he’s eventually going to take the best offer available.

The Pirates have long tried to show respect to veterans, giving them every opportunity to try and attract future free agents. That 2016 season saw them give Ryan Vogelsong a start at the end of the year, triggering a few performance bonuses for no reason other than to show goodwill to a veteran player.

The process works somewhat. The Pirates do have a good reputation around the league, much better than the perception of the club in the local market. But again, the best offer usually wins, and showing respect to veterans is more of a tiebreaker or an added bonus, rather than a sole reason a guy will sign with a club.

We’re also only a few months removed from very public comments during Spring Training about how the organization didn’t send a clear message about winning to the players. Our behind the scenes look into the topic here at Pirates Prospects found that one big issue was that players were being treated in an inconsistent manner. Some players would be held accountable for poor play and would get benched, sent down, or cut, while other struggling players continued to get endless opportunities.

Whatever the reason to start Rodriguez and keep him on the team, it probably isn’t good enough to basically continue the trend that led to so many players complaining about from last season.

I didn’t need to write all of this to say why Sean Rodriguez needs to go. I could have just written “Sean Rodriguez needs to go.” and then let you move on to the rest of the Morning Report, and I don’t think I would have gotten any counter arguments.

I’m writing this because there’s a bigger issue at play. The Pirates need to learn a lesson from that 2016 season, and from the 2017 season. They have an attitude that they will try to contend as long as they’re technically in the race. They are technically in the race. They might even go on another hot streak that puts them closer in the race. But realistically, they’re not contending this year without a miracle.

The bigger issue is that the Pirates need to stop playing for the miracle. Clint Hurdle saw the miracle happen in Colorado about a decade ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again, and one example a decade ago shouldn’t be justification for a strategy (not that Hurdle’s experience dictates the organization’s strategy, but it explains why he doesn’t give up until the team is officially out of the race).

This is a league where you’re either all-in or all-out. The teams stuck in the middle — hovering around .500 and waiting to see how the players perform in the month leading up to the trade deadline before deciding their direction — are at an extreme disadvantage. The Pirates were in that situation the last two years, and it led them to No Man’s Land, where they were just treading water, never really making a strong push toward contending or rebuilding.

They made a push toward rebuilding prior to this season, but still had the focus on winning this year. At this point, it’s best for them to abandon the idea of winning this year, and focus on furthering the rebuild. They have young players ready to take over in several spots, and honestly, those players can’t perform worse than some of the veterans on the team like Rodriguez.

Sean Rodriguez needs to go. That’s clear. Whether that will happen, or when that will happen, is going to reveal how much the Pirates actually learned from the last two seasons.

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 3-0 to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday. The Pirates now travel to New York to take on the Mets, where they will send Jameson Taillon to the mound for his 16th start today. He allowed three runs over five innings against the Milwaukee Brewers in his last start. The scheduled Mets starter is right-hander Seth Lugo, who has a 2.85 ERA in 53.2 innings, with 59 strikeouts and a 1.04 WHIP. He gave up three runs over three innings against the Colorado Rockies in his last outing.

The minor league schedule includes starts from Nick Kingham, Shane Baz and Mitch Keller. Kingham allowed three runs over six innings in his last start, after throwing eight shutout innings in his previous game. Keller threw six shutout innings in his last start. Baz tossed five shutout innings in his season debut.

West Virginia has a doubleheader today after a rain out yesterday. Game one starter Gavin Wallace is holding batters to a .222 average and he has an 0.99 WHIP and a 1.45 GO/AO ratio. No starter has been named yet for game two, which was supposed to be Cody Bolton today, but teams usually don’t use two pitchers from their rotation on the same day. Morgantown also has a doubleheader and same rules apply with the starters. Eighth round pick Zach Spears makes his second pro start and game two is TBD. Bradenton has off today.

MLB: Pittsburgh (36-41) @ New York Mets (31-44) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: Jameson Taillon (4.03 ERA, 78:22 SO/BB, 82.2 IP)

AAA: Indianapolis (40-33) @ Toledo (44-30) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Nick Kingham (2.06 ERA, 42:11 SO/BB, 43.2 IP)

AA: Altoona (36-33) vs Harrisburg (40-34) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Mitch Keller (3.00 ERA, 70:30 SO/BB, 78.0 IP)

High-A: Bradenton (36-33) @ Palm Beach (41-27) 6:30 PM 6/26 (season preview)
Probable starter: Luis Escobar (3.63 ERA, 43:25 SO/BB, 67.0 IP)

Low-A: West Virginia (40-29) vs Lakewood (43-29) 5:05 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Gavin Wallace (3.59 ERA, 39:10 SO/BB, 62.2 IP) and TBD

Short-Season A: Morgantown (5-4) @ Auburn (2-6) 5:00 PM DH (season preview)
Probable starter: Zach Spears (0.00 ERA, 0:1 SO/BB, 3.0 IP) and TBD

Rookie: Bristol (3-3) vs Pulaski (1-4) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Shane Baz (0.00 ERA, 1:3 SO/BB, 5.0 IP)

GCL: Pirates (2-4) vs Yankees West 12:00 PM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates1 (8-11) vs Rays2 10:30 AM (season preview)

DSL: Pirates2 (7-12) vs Giants 10:30 AM  (season preview)

HIGHLIGHTS

From Indianapolis, two highlights from Sunday. First up, Jordan Luplow

Next is Jung Ho Kang coming through with a clutch hit

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

6/24: Pirates place Michael Feliz on disabled list. Clay Holmes recalled from Indianapolis

6/24: Jerrick Suiter activated from Indianapolis disabled list.

6/24: Pirates released Kyle Simmons and Cristopher Perez.

6/23: Corey Dickerson reinstated from Family Medical Emergency Leave list. Adam Frazier optioned to Indianapolis.

6/23: Evan Piechota placed on disabled list. Ryan Haug promoted to Bradenton.

6/22: Pirates sign Braxton Ashcraft and Connor Kaiser.

6/22: Francisco Cervelli placed on disabled list. Jacob Stallings recalled from Indianapolis.

6/22: Arden Pabst promoted to Indianapolis. Blake Cederlind promoted to Bradenton.

6/22: Travis MacGregor assigned to GCL Pirates on rehab.

6/22: Fernando Villegas activated from Morgantown restricted list. Assigned to GCL Pirates.

6/21: Fabricio Macias activated from West Virginia restricted list. Assigned to Morgantown.

6/21: Pirates sign Kyle Mottice and Steven Kraft.

6/21: Tyler Eppler activated from temporary inactive list.

6/21: Cody Smith assigned to Morgantown from GCL Pirates

6/20: Corey Dickerson placed on Family Medical Emergency Leave list. Adam Frazier recalled.

6/20: Jackson Williams placed on Indianapolis disabled list.

6/20: Pirates sign three draft picks

6/20: Pirates sign Matt Morrow and Pat Dorrian

6/20: Enny Romero assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.

6/18: Richard Rodriguez activated from disabled list. Dovydas Neverauskas optioned to Indianapolis

6/18: Pirates recall Jose Osuna. Jacob Stallings optioned to Indianapolis.

6/16: Tyler Eppler placed on Temporary Inactive List.

THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a high scoring doubleheader for the Pirates. Starting with the players and we have some recent ones. Paul Maholm and Aramis Ramirez are familiar to even the most recent Pirates’ fans. Maholm played for the team from 2005 until 2011 and Ramirez was with the club from 1998 until 2003. He was then traded away in a deal most people would like to forget. I’ll leave it at that and you can check the link above if you want to torture yourself. Ramirez did come back at the end of 2015 for a farewell tour, so that was fun.

Also born on this date: 1994 pitcher Alejandro Pena, pitcher John Gelnar, who played for the 1964 and 1967 teams. Infielder Bill Webb (1917), and 1929-30 pitcher Ralph Erickson, who is one of a handful of former Major League players who lived to 100 years old. He passed away in 2002.

On this date in 1912, the Pirates took on the St Louis Cardinals in Pittsburgh for two games. By the end of the day, they would collect 35 hits and outscore the Cardinals 29-7. Chief Wilson and Hall of Famer Max Carey each hit grand slams. The Pirates finished second in the NL that year with a 93-58 record.

On this date in 2016, Clint Hurdle picked up his 1,000th managerial win and the Pirates defeated the Dodgers for the 1,000th time in franchise history in an 8-6 win at PNC Park.

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