For the first time since May 12th, the Pirates don’t have a scheduled baseball game. The Pirates have played 30 times in this month-plus, and they’ve gone 14-16. This stretch started distressingly, with a fifth consecutive loss to the Cubs, and it’s ended horrifically. The Pirates are currently on a six-game losing streak, and they’ve now lost 12 of 16 since starting the day after they destroyed Cole Hamels in Texas. That’s taken them from 28-19 and 4 1/2 behind the Cubs to 32-31, and 2 1/2 behind the current second wild card (the Mets).
The schedule at the end of this stretch has been brutal; starting on Tuesday they played a double-header, an extra inning game, a one-game series in Colorado sandwiched into a homestand, and an extra inning game in which their starter only pitched two innings. I said walking out of Friday’s game that I couldn’t see how they were going to win either of the next two games against the Cardinals, and I was right. And so, certainly, a lot of the team’s immediate struggles are exacerbated by the schedule. The Pirates aren’t this bad, and a return to a normal schedule will probably help them play better.
The problem is that the last five days also highlighted exactly how far this pitching staff has come since their early April problems: no where at all. Jon Niese is still inconsistent and Francisco Liriano is one step above useless. The bullpen isn’t so much a problem as a it is a gaping maw of ineffectiveness, giving us Pirate fans a new definition of pain and suffering, slowly turning wins into losses over the course of a thousand years. Just when you think Neftali Feliz or Jared Hughes is coming around, one of them serves up a huge home run. Just when you think Tony Watson is on track, the wheels come completely off. AJ Schugel and Kyle Lobstein have occasionally popped in to give important innings, but not with any reliability or predictability, and Cory Luebke and Arquimedes Caminero have no place on a Major League roster.
And now Gerrit Cole is injured in a mysterious way. I’ve been saying for a while that I thought the way to fix the rotation was to call Taillon up, put him in Nicasio’s spot, and put Nicasio in the bullpen. I still think Nicasio can be a solid bullpen piece even after Friday’s 12th inning disaster (remember that he was pitching on a side-session day and he looked good through 2 1/2 batters, then ran out of gas like there was a hole in the gas tank), and I still think that doing that probably addresses two problems the Pirates have fairly well. If Taillon is replacing Cole, though? Hoo boy, I do not know how that does anything but increase the burden on the bullpen.
And this is the crossroads the team is at on this off-day: they’re off today, but they play the Mets, Cubs, and Giants next. They have no pitching solutions, and they’re beyond the point at which thinking Niese and Liriano are one start away from shoring up the middle of the rotation is logical. Gerrit Cole’s injury is the textbook definition of indefinite. The framework that exists in that optimistic post that sits right below this one is still there; the offense is good, and it will score runs, wear down pitchers, and win them baseball games. It can’t win enough games on its own, though, and in the wake of the end of this 30-day stretch and Cole’s injury, I think the Pirates need to think long and hard about what it is that they need to get their pitching staff into a place that it needs to be.
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