The Pittsburgh Pirates 2011 and 2012 seasons both featured huge collapses, and the pitching was a main part as to why the team fell apart.
In 2011, the Bucs were right around the head of the National League Central before the 19-inning game in Atlanta killed all their momentum. A blown call by Jerry Meals in the bottom of the 19th lead to a rough last two months for Pirates fans, as they racked up their 19th consecutive losing season at the end of the year.
2012 was much worse. We all remember it, and there really isn’t much of a reason for me to talk about it. It was awful. Sixteen games over .500 in the middle of August and they failed to get a .500 season.
Pitching was bad down the stretch.
James McDonald was an absolute mess in July, August, and September.
Erik Bedard failed to pitch a whole season with the Pirates and was released in August.
Kevin Correia was, well, Kevin Correia, an average pitcher who was granted with fantastic run support.
Even A.J. Burnett had a mediocre second half, as he went 3-7 in August, September, and October. But finished with some solid work.
Wandy Rodriguez, on the other hand, was actually the best pitcher for the Pirates in the second half of the 2012 season.
The bullpen was just as bad. Joel Hanrahan was pretty much a non-factor, and never got the chance to close out games due to the collapse. Jared Hughes, who had a tremendous first half, was eventually optioned to Triple-A at one point.
The whole Chad Qualls project was nothing but laughable, and other guys like Doug Slaten, Juan Cruz, Hisanori Takahashi, and Evan Meek pitched pretty awful. On a positive note, Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke showed promise, which is one of the main reasons why they made the 25-man roster this season.
So there it is: I said I wasn’t going to talk about the 2012 pitching collapse, but I did. Why am I telling you all of this? Because fans are all worried that it may happen again this year.
The Pirates are eight games over .500, and fans still aren’t satisfied. Some are completely paranoid of the pitching being worn out, and I can’t blame them at all. The only thing is, I think this year is different.
I have faith that the starting pitching staff will be successful through September. A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez, and Francisco Liriano all look solid. James McDonald is currently on the disabled list, but has shown a little bit of progress since his dreadful 2012 second half. I have confidence in J-Mac, and think he’ll pitch some big games for the Pirates if he finds himself in the rotation again.
On top of these six, the Pirates have a couple of reliable pitchers returning sometime in the near future. Jeff Karstens is currently making rehab starts in Altoona, and Charlie Morton is slated to return around the All-Star break. That’s eight pitchers right there that are all worthy of being in the starting rotation. Furthermore, the Pirates even have players like Phil Irwin and Kyle McPherson who are capable of making spot starts from time to time if needed.
Fans are thinking that they’ll see Gerrit Cole at some point this season, but the more I watch him pitch in Triple-A, the more I think he’s just not big league ready.
In my opinion, the starting pitching is fine. There are at least five proven starters in the rotation, along with other guys who are capable of making starts.
The thing that fans should be worried about is the bullpen.
I hate to be pessimistic, but I don’t have much faith in the bullpen when it comes to keeping it together for 162 games. My take on the bullpen: Two good pitchers, and a bunch of other average pitchers who help make up the un-original name of the “Shark Tank.”
The only thing about the two of them is that they are being overused.
The Pirates season is a little over a quarter way over, and they have played 44 games. Melancon has pitched in 23 of them. Grilli has pitched in 22 of them.
That’s not good. If those two get worn out, the bullpen is in serious trouble.
Justin Wilson has opened eyes out of the bullpen, and has been a great left-handed reliever this far. Tony Watson, Jared Hughes, Vin Mazzaro, and Bryan Morris are all average relief pitchers, and if I had to guess, Jose Contreras will be released at some point in the season. There are a few positives as far as minor league relief helps goes, and players like Duke Welker and Vic Black could be called up at some point later in the season.
Help could also be on the way from some of the starters who get bumped to the bullpen. It looks now like Burnett, Rodriguez, and Liriano have three of the five rotation spots locked down. Locke is awfully close to being in that company. Gomez has looked good as both a reliever and a starter, and could definitely be a contributor of of the ‘pen at some point. Even though I love him as a starter, Karstens could be looking at a bullpen stint this year.
When it’s all said and done, the bullpen is what will decide this team. The batting looks fine, and the starting pitching, as I explained, has the depth to not be worn out come August and September. The bullpen will need to do it’s part, and if Grilli and Melancon are worn out later on in the season, some relief pitchers are going to have to step up and help prevent this team from another late season tragedy.