Struggling Pittsburgh Pirates Get A Much Needed Off Day
By Marty Leap
For the first time since May 12th, the Pittsburgh Pirates get an off day today. And it could not come at a better time.
After being swept by the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates have now lost five consecutive games. This current slump for the Pittsburgh Pirates goes back further than that though. The Pirates are just 3-9 in the month of June, and are just 4-12 in their last 16 games dating back to the end of May.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a lot of problems right now, and as a result find themselves with a 32-31 record and a season worst three games out of a postseason position. However, staying in a postseason position is the least of the team’s concerns right now. This is because the team is currently dealing with injuries, the bullpen has been and is somewhat undermanned, and the starting rotation appears to be in shambles.
Luckily for the Pittsburgh Pirates, today is a much-needed off day. Thanks to a pair of make up games against the Colorado Rockies, the Pirates have not had a scheduled day off since May 12th. Mix in a doubleheader with the New York Mets, and the Pirates have played 30 games in the last 31 days.
The only two days the Pirates have not played since May 12th are May 22nd and June 6th. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a rainout on each of those days. So for this reason, the team did not get a full day off and still had to go through your daily gameday routine.
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While playing 30 games in 31 days will wear on every member of a Major League Baseball team, no one has been more worn out by it than the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. The Pirates have had to make countless roster moves to add fresh bullpen arms during this stretch, and currently have an eight man bullpen and just a four man bench. Needless to say, the Pirate bullpen will really enjoy this day off today.
Adding to the bullpen’s problems has been the struggles of the starting pitching. There were six instances during this stretch in which the Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher failed to last at least five innings, and even lasting five innings is not that much of a feat. The fact the Pirates have already played three extra inning games in June has not helped the bullpen either.
Injuries are also adding to the Pittsburgh Pirates messy situation right now. During this stretch of 30 games in 31 days Ryan Vogelsong was placed on the 60-day disabled list after being hit in the eye with a Jordan Lyles pitch, and even more troublesome is that starting catcher Francisco Cervelli broke the hamate bone in his left-hand on Friday night and will now miss four to six weeks.
But the worst injury news of all is that of ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. While the rest of the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation has struggled this season, Gerrit Cole has not. In 68 1/3 innings pitched Cole has a 2.70 ERA, 3.04 FIP, is averaging a career best 0.40 HR/9, and has already complied a 1.6 WAR. However, Cole had to leave his start Friday night with right bicep tightness and he appears to be on his way to the disabled list as well.
A Gerrit Cole injury is one that I am not sure the Pittsburgh Pirates can survive, especially with Francisco Liriano struggling mightily. Assuming Cole goes on the disabled list this week I look for Jameson Taillon to be recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. And if the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to compete for a playoff spot, Taillon has to be the lights out pitcher he has been at Triple-A this season.
In recent weeks, the Pittsburgh Pirates have also suffered some real gut punch type losses. In the month of June the Pirates are 0-3 in extra innings, and twice have lost when leading after seven innings. This comes after being undefeated in April and May when leading after seven innings.
Those extra inning/late inning collapse losses can partly be attributed to playing 30 games in 31 days. A depleted bullpen definitely contributed to some of these losses. Especially their extra innings losses to the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals this past week. However, the bullpen still needs to be better.
You can be rest assured the bullpen will enjoy their day off on Monday. When the Pittsburgh Pirates tangle with the New York Mets on Tuesday night their entire bullpen will be available for the first time in seemingly forever. But hopefully Jeff Locke gives the Pirates a strong start, and the Bucs will not need much of their bullpen.
Even though other Pirate fans will disagree with me, my only complaint about the Pittsburgh Priates offseason was not adding another starting pitcher. I expected Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano to be maybe the best one-two punch in the National League, with Jon Niese as a solid number three starter. However, Jeff Locke is a number five starter, Juan Nicasio is a reliever, and Ryan Vogelsong should no longer be in the Major Leagues. For these reasons, I wanted the Priates to add another starting pitcher.
Even when Neal Huntington failed to do so, I still expected the rotation to be good enough to keep the Pirates in the thick of things until Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow arrived. Unfortunately, this has not happened and Neal Huntington, while being a great general manger, deserves criticism for not adding another starting pitcher. Now that said, he had no way of knowing that Francisco Liriano would have the worst season of his career (so far) in 2016 or that Jon Niese would suck for the first five weeks of the season.
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The Pittsburgh Pirates are an absolute mess right now. Quite honestly, they look like a mediocre baseball team at best. If the Pittsburgh Pirates do not start to play better, specifically pitching better, and soon they will not be making a fourth consecutive postseason appearance for the first time in franchise history. Hell, right now this looks like a team that may struggle to stay above .500.
The most frustrating part of the Pittsburgh Pirates season has undoubtedly been their pitching staff. While I never expected the staff to be great this year, I believed they would be around the middle of the pack in the Majors. I believed the Pirates would have a mediocre rotation, until Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow arrived, and a lights out bullpen. However, the bullpen has been inconsistent and the rotation has been a mess.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are currently facing the most adversity they have seen in quite awhile. The team needs to pitch better, period. Players such as Francisco Liriano, Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero, and Jon Niese are more talented than their results have yielding this season.
Andrew McCutchen also needs to start to play like Andrew McCutchen. What he has done this year is simply not good enough. McCutchen is far too good of a player to have a .315 wOBA and a wRC+ of 99. Andrew McCutchen is supposed to be the leader of this team, and his team needs him right now. It is time for Cutch to show up.
For the most part, the Pittsburgh Pirates offense has been fantastic in 2016. The Pirates currently rank second in the Majors in batting average (.273), second in on-base percentage (.350), and sixth in runs scored (297). However, in the month of June the Pirate offense has struggled some.
So far in June the Pittsburgh Pirates are averaging just three and a half runs per game. Three runs will not win you very many baseball games, and this is where Andrew McCutchen needs to be better. Even with McCutchen struggling, the Pirates still find themselves in the Majors in runs scored. But right now the offense is struggling, and they need Andrew McCutchen to help them out. It is the least he can do as the rest of the lineup has carried McCutchen through the season’s first two months.
Today is a much needed off day for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After playing 30 games in 31 days, and going just 14-16 in those games, the team needs a day away from baseball to clear their minds and press reset. However, things do not get any easier for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tuesday will start a stretch of 19 games in 19 days against five teams with winning records. These next 19 games might make or break the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates, and right now I fear those games will break them.