The Pittsburgh Pirates have seen a lot of success since posting their 20th consecutive losing season in 2012. They won 94 games in 2013 and made an appearance in the National League Division Series, and followed that up with an 88 win season en route to another playoff appearance.
So what’s been the key to this success? The simplest answer might be the best answer – they have good players, and a team with good players typically puts up a winning record over the grueling 162 game season. However, there’s more to it than just that. Baseball has a mental aspect that not a lot of other sports have. Focus is key, the best players avoid long slumps. It’s hard to put a value on the mental side of the game. Good players will avoid long slumps probably just because they have the physical ability to perform at a higher level more often, but they’ll all tell you that there’s more to it than that.
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This post won’t have a numeric conclusion like most of my posts do, which feels weird to me. I’m just here to tell you that your Pittsburgh Pirates have been good under pressure and have found a way to avoid losing streaks, which has propelled them to be that annual playoff contender that they seem to be. We saw this on Tuesday night as the Pirates bounced back from an ugly three game sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals with a come from behind 7-6 victory over the Reds. They were selective at the plate and took advantage of a rookie pitcher that couldn’t locate the ball. The pitching wasn’t great, but Jeff Locke kept the Pirates close enough and they found a way to get the win.
I took a look back at the last two and a half seasons looking for losing streaks of four games or longer. Here’s the short list:
4/4-4/7: 4 game losing streak to CHC & LAD, beat ARI 5-3 to break streak.
7/6-7/9: 4 game losing streak to CHC & OAK, beat OAK 5-0 to break streak.
8/9-8/13: 4 game losing streak to COL & STL, beat STL 5-1 to break streak.
9/4-9/8: 4 game losing to MIL & STL, beat TEX 1-0 to break streak.
4/22-4/25: 4 game losing streak to CIN & STL, beat STL 6-1 to break streak.
8/13-8/19: 7 game losing streak to DET, WSH, & ATL, beat ATL 3-2 to break streak.
8/31-9/3: 4 game losing to CIN & STL, beat CHC 5-3 to break streak.
5/1-5/6: 5 game losing streak to STL & CIN, beat CIN 7-2 to break streak.
5/13-5/16: 4 game losing streak to PHI & CHC, beat CHC 3-0 to break streak.
Just two losing streaks of more than four games in nearly 15 months of baseball, and the team right now looks less prone to losing streaks than ever. Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano have all looked like top of the rotation starters, it’s really hard for the Pirates to lose three in a row with those horses on the mound. Granted, that could change and some regression in Burnett and Liriano are likely, but you’ve got to feel good about the team limiting losing streaks as the year progresses.
A trend is also developing of the Pirates playing their best baseball in the later months of the season. Here are the teams monthly records for the last two seasons:
Two seasons with varying different starters certainly isn’t going to predict anything, but if for some reason it could, things are looking way up for this year’s Pittsburgh Pirates.