The Pirates are playing really, really poorly right now. They’re probably going to lose 100 games, and they look as uninspired as I can ever remember seeing them in the past few seasons, which I think really says something. With the team playing this poorly, it’s easy to write them off and ignore them, especially with football and hockey starting up and with school resuming. People’s plates get piled high and it’s understandable that the first thing that gets shuffled off is the lowly, forgotten baseball team trudging towards a season who’s outcome was determined a long time ago.
And still, the games count. Everything that happens in these games tells us something about the Pirates that might be usefully applied to their future. Lastings Milledge’s .319 average in the last 27 games tells us something, just like Delwyn Young’s .535 OPS over the same span tells us something else. Each Matt Capps blown save confirms an ugly suspicion. Each Joel Hanrahan strikeout makes those blown Capps outings harder to stomach.
This particular group of Pirates isn’t going to win a division and they’re probably not going to finish .500, but I do think there’s something there. Something in having Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge patrol the outfield. Something in a front office that can identify useful players that no one else sees, whether they’re on his own team (Nyjer Morgan) or someone else’s (Garrett Jones, Delwyn Young). I even agreed that there’s something hidden in Andy LaRoche.
This Pirate team, as assembled, needs to be viewed a little more differently than a straight glance at wins and losses. Think about the way this team handles their minor leaguers; guys stay in the rotation (Moskos) or in positions they might not be able to handle long-term (Alvarez at third, Tabata in center) for as long as possible as an evaluation tool. There’s no reason to think the same thing isn’t being done in Pittsburgh right now. Surely, the Pirates would be a better team if they kept Ohlendorf pitching and moved two of the McCutchen/Morton/Hart trio into the bullpen to replace wildly ineffective guys like Chris Bootcheck and Denny Bautista, but all that does is risk Ohlendorf’s health and win us maybe one or two more games. We don’t learn anything from that and as hard as it is for a fan to swallow, learning is much more important than winning right now.