In 2010, the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the worst baseball teams any of us can remember watching. They were bad at pretty literally everything imaginable. In early September, they managed to take two of three, including two in a row, from a contending Atlanta Braves team that still won the wild card. In 2011, the Pirates had one of the worst late-season collapses in recent baseball memory. They went from contender to Same Old Pirates in record time, dropping 43 of their last 62 games. In the midst of that free-fall, they took two of three from the Cardinals, including two in a row on August 15th and 16th. That didn’t stop the Cardinals from winning the wild card and then the World Series.
The point is this: this is baseball. Bad teams beat good teams. They do it pretty often, actually. Sometimes, they do it twice in a row. It’s not fun to be on this end of it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Two games is a pretty small, inconsequential sample in a 162 game season, though. Even with two straight losses to the Cubs, the Pirates are 2 1/2 back of the Reds and they’re ahead of everyone in the wild card race. If they can find a way to win today, they still go 4-2 on this homestand, which is just fine.
Of course, a win today is not a given. Ryan Dempster, who has now vetoed his deal to the Braves because his feelings were hurt and because he wants to be a Dodger, is starting for the Cubs against Kevin Correia, who’s probably pitching for his rotation life (and probably can’t actually do anything to stay in after Erik Bedard’s dominant start on Monday). That’s not a great matchup for the Pirates, but then, the Pirates have won five of Correia’s last six starts.
First pitch today is at 12:35.
With their terrible play of late, the Pirates are entering an extremely dangerous territory. Neal Huntington has more or less committed the entire system to slowly rebuilding from the bottom up, but he’s facing a 2011 season without a contract and his current Major League club is terrible with a disastrous pitching staff. This is where the possibility for doing something stupid is about as high as it’ll ever be. This is where prospects get traded for marginal big league pitching. This is where draft plans get altered for “fast track” pitchers to help the big league staff out.
I’m not saying this hasn’t been embarrassing, because it certainly is. I’m not saying the front office should sit on their hands (and they haven’t been; the revolving door on the pitcher’s mound represents the best anyone can do with this pitching staff right now), but since Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly took over in 2007, it’s never been about 2010.
Consider the reverse, if the Pirates were 11-7 right now. We’d all be saying that we have to temper expectations, that the team couldn’t keep playing so well, that getting hopes up now would be pointless and setting up for disappointment. The inverse has to be true here. The pitching staff’s ERA is still about two runs higher than it should be, based on their peripherals, and early indications seem to be that the defense isn’t playing terribly. The offense is terrible, sure, but how can the team fix that? Pedro Alvarez is still striking out a ton and has a .433 OPS against lefties. Calling him up now might do more harm than good. So call Neil Walker up and let him play second instead of Iwamura? I’m not sure that would help. Call Steve Pearce up and platoon him with Clement and Jones? Actually, they should do that, but how much would that really help?
The pitching won’t be this bad forever; Ross Ohlendorf should be back soon and Brad Lincoln is pitching well enough in Triple-A to think that a promotion isn’t all that far away. Whatever you think of those guys, they should at least be better than Burres and McCutchen and help stabilize the rotation and by extension the bullpen. Charlie Morton can’t pitch with a 16.00 ERA all year, either because he’ll start to get himself at least a little bit straightened out or because he’ll have to be demoted. No one pitches that badly for more than a short stretch for a number of reasons.
It sucks to keep having to be patient after so long, but besides Morton’s implosion there’s not a lot of things that have happened this year that negatively impact the long-term outlook of the Huntington Plan. As ugly as the last week has been, it’s still only six games and the season is still only 17 games old.