The reason that I’ve held this recap until this morning, almost 24 hours after the game, is that the Pirates are a really hard team to write about right now. It’s hard to avoid being overly negative or inappropriately chipper, and I’m not sure that either of those responses is quite right for the situation. On the one hand, the Pirates just lost six of eight at home and 11 of 14 total(!) to the Brewers and Reds in a two-week period, which has them buried in the NL Central and closer to the Cubs in the standings than to anything resembling a playoff spot. On the other, a bunch of the losses in the homestand were either close, flukey, or both, and it’s easy to point out how the Pirates could’ve gone 5-3 instead of 2-6. The offense looked good against the Brewers, the pitching seems to have turned a corner against the Reds, and if they could combine those things together they’ll probably stop losing so much.
Anyway, Brandon Cumpton made a really strong start for the Pirates yesterday. With both Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano looking improved in their last outings and Edinson Volquez continuing his strong start, I think the Pirates’ rotation may be headed in the right direction. Cumpton’s only downfall was that he kept trying to challenge the Reds’ on the inside part of the plate once he got ahead in the count on them (which he did often, since he threw 68 of 98 pitches for strikes) and that lead to three hit batsmen. Two of them scored on a Ryan Ludwick double in the sixth inning, and that was the game. The Pirates once again failed to capitalize on a Reds’ starter (Tony Cingrani) that had control problems to start the game, they let him get into a groove, and they had no real chance once that happened.
Cumpton will get at least one more start before the Pirates have to make a decision on him vs. Wandy Rodriguez, since Rodriguez is already being penciled in for a rehab start around the middle of next week. I strongly suspect that a second good start by Cumpton will force the Pirates’ hand on Wandy. Unless his rehab start looks drastically different than what we’ve already seen from him this year (and it might), it’s hard to believe he’s got much left in the tank. I suppose we’ll wait and see.
Anyway, part of the reason this stretch is so frustrating is that last year’s Pirates were pretty awesomely even-keel all year. They never lost more than four games in a row and I think they only went 3-7 over a ten-game span once all year (at the beginning of August, though that’s just based on a slightly-more-than-cursory glance at the results graph on that Baseball-Reference page linked above). In general, most good team hit rough patches and find a way to overcome them. Remember when the eventual NL and NL Central Cardinals lost four of five games at PNC Park last year with first place on the line at the end of July? That was part of a seven-game losing streak that resulted in them losing five games in the standings to the Pirates. Good teams overcome stretches like this. Bad teams don’t. We’re going to find out which the Pirates are awfully soon.