There are two realities that exist on the morning on 16 August 2012 in Pittsburgh Pirate Land. One is that the Pirates are 64-53 and tied for a wild card spot with 45 games left. Of their 45 remaining games, 16 are against contenders (one left against the Dodgers, six against the Cardinals, six against the Reds, three against the Braves). That’s hard reality; the Pirates are in contention and play 29 of their last 45 games against teams of varying levels of badness. They need 18 wins in those 45 games (18-27) to finish above .500. They need 26 wins (26-19) to get to 90 wins and a reasonable expectation of a playoff berth. Based on their season as a whole to this point and their remaining schedule, one of those things seems like a slam dunk and the other seems possible at the very least.
The other reality is that the Pirates have lost six of their last seven games, that a neck-and-neck race with the Reds for the NL Central has turned into a runaway lead for the Reds and the Pirates desperately clinging to the final wild card spot. This is one year after the Pirates turned 53-47 record and a tie for first place into five games under and ten games back in thirteen games. This is the year 20 AB in Pittsburgh; there is no reason to expect good things for the Pirates because good things never happen to the Pirates.
I’m not a proponent of waiting for the other shoe. Not in baseball. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker and AJ Burnett have as much to do with Kevin Young and Jason Kendall and Steve Cooke as Young and Kendall and Cooke have to do with Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek. I like to be superstitious, I like to remember and celebrate history, but I don’t believe in curses or ghosts. There are only good teams and bad teams, smart front offices and dumb front offices, good luck and bad luck. The Pirates didn’t fall apart last year because they’re the Pittsburgh Pirates and because that’s what the Universe wants to happen to the Pittsburgh Pirates; they fell apart because they weren’t a very good baseball team and because 162 games separates good teams from bad teams better than 100 games do.
For the last six weeks, every time the Pirates lose a game or two in a row or three of five, someone asks me if “The Collapse” is starting, and I always say that expecting a collapse like last year’s is irrational and dumb because last year’s collapse was a historic, once-a-generation kind of thing. No baseball team in history has been in first place after 100 games and then lost more than 47 of their last 62 (well, I’m extrapolating from this, but I feel pretty good about that statement). Sitting around waiting for another collapse like that is an exercise in self-torture.
But how can you not think about it after the stretch of games the Pirates have just played? When Neil Walker is writhing on the ground in pain two batters into an important game? How can you not guard yourself against another collapse? How can you tell yourself that despite a lifetime of experiences to the contrary, that it’d be really hard for this particular Pirate team to go 17-28 or 16-29 in their last 45 games? I don’t have an answer to any of thise.
The Pirates aren’t as bad as they’ve been the last ten days or so, and I don’t think that they’ll stay in this funk for that much longer. It’s just not likely to happen; there’s a different talent level on this Pirate team than there was even to last year’s team. Baseball cycles up and down; the Pirates were up late June and early July and they’re down now. With any luck, they’ll be up again before the season ends. Probably not enough to catch the Reds, maybe not enough to hold off the Cardinals, but enough to win 85 or so games. That’s what logic and reality tells us is the most likely outcome here, no matter how ugly the last ten days have been.
Have I convinced you? I’m not sure I’ve convinced myself.