Is This The Beginning Of The End For The 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates?
Are we currently watching the beginning of the end of the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates?
There is no way around it, currently the Pittsburgh Pirates are not a good baseball team. The proverbial ‘June swoon’ is in full force for the Pirates, who are just 4-11 through the first 15 games of the month. As a result, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves with an overall record of just 33-33. This record puts them third place in the National League Central, 12 games behind the first place Chicago Cubs, and three and a half games behind the New York Mets for the second National League Wild Card spot.
Adding to the woes of the Pirates this month are injuries. Long reliever Ryan Vogelsong, ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, and starting catcher Francisco Cervelli are all currently on the disabled list. Plus, left fielder Starling Marte had to leave Wednesday night’s game early with a swollen eye and did not play yesterday.
The Pittsburgh Pirates also are being hurt by an injury at the Minor League level, and that is catching prospect Elias Diaz. If Diaz were not out due to elbow surgery he would be the Pirates’ starting catcher with Francisco Cervelli out. It is especially painful when you factor in all the minor injuries Chris Stewart is being forced to try to play through leading to Erik Kratz receiving way too much playing time.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are continuing to deal with the same problem that has plagued them all season, poor pitching. Minus two good turns through the rotation in May, the Pirates rotation has been horrible all season long. However, June has been particularly rough.
Outside of Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, before he was placed on the disabled list, the Pirates starting pitching has been a complete train wreck this month. Jon Niese has been the Pirates third best starter in June with a 5.19 ERA, 4.18 FIP, and a xFIP of 3.81 in 17 1/3 innings pitched. Things get really ugly though when you look at Francisco Liriano, Juan Nicasio, and Jeff Locke.
Due to having one start pushed back because he was struggling so badly, Francisco Liriano has made just two starts so far in June. In those two starts he has pitched just 9 1/3 innings and is averaging 9.64 K/9, 6.75 BB/9, 1.93 HR/9, and has a WHIP of 2.25. All of this results in an ERA of 6.75, a FIP of 6.03, and a xFIP of 4.65.
Somehow, Juan Nicasio and Jeff Locke have managed to be even worse than Liriano in June. Nicasio has an 8.82 ERA, 5.95 FIP, 5.28 xFIP, a 1.78 WHIP, and he has allowed four home runs in 16 1/3 innings. It should be noted though that one of those innings for Nicasio came in relief, and went horribly.
Then there is good ‘ol Jeff Locke who has somehow managed to allow 19 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings pitched this month. In those 15 2/3 innings pitched, three starts, this month Locke has allowed 27 hits, four home runs, he has walked four batters, and has struck out just seven. All of this comes out to Locke having a 12.06 ERA, 6.33 FIP, and 5.84 xFIP this month. Yikes.
Complicating things even further for the Pittsburgh Pirates is their schedule for the rest of June. The Pirates start a three game series with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field today, then they come home to play the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, and then hit the road again to play the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Seattle Mariners. So every team the Pirates will play the rest of the month having a winning record, and all of them except the Dodgers are in a playoff spot.
The most troubling part for the Pittsburgh Pirates is that there is not a lot of help on the horizon for this pitching staff. Jameson Taillon has already arrived and Gerrit Cole will return off the disabled list soon, but the team needs more help. What has hurt this team more than anything this year has been Francisco Liriano having the worst season of his career, and Jon Niese not pitching anywhere near the level he did the past four season when he had a 3.65 ERA and a sub-3.80 FIP and xFIP.
Chad Kuhl and Tyler Glasnow are guys at Triple-A that might be able to help, and that I would like to see in the Major Leagues at this point, but they are far from slam dunks. Kuhl, like Juan Nicasio, is a two pitch pitcher that is best suited for a bullpen role in the Major Leagues. Also, he has an ERA around nine his last four starts for Indianapolis.
Tyler Glasnow is going to be a very, very good Major League starter one day. Unfortunately, that day is probably not today. Right now Glasnow is averaging 4.56 BB/9 at Triple-A and that is entirely too high. His change up still needs some polishing as well. So even if he were to be called up right now, I would not expect him to replicate what he is doing at Triple-A with a 1.90 ERA and a 2.83 FIP.
There is also the issue of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. Outside of Mark Melancon, Neftali Feliz, and A.J. Schugel the bullpen has been, at best, inconsistent this season. There is zero bullpen help at Triple-A, and this is because the guys who were expected to be the bullpen reserves at Triple-A, A.J. Schugel and Rob Scahill, are already in the Majors due to others struggling.
Entering the season I expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to have a very strong bullpen once again. However, this has not happened. It has largely been due to Tony Watson having the worst season of his career and a massive sophomore slump by Arquimedes Caminero. Two things that absolutely no one could have seen coming.
Even though the Pirate offense has not been as good in June as it was in April and May, it remains one of the best in baseball. The Pirates are still averaging nearly four runs per game in June, and four runs, with a competent pitching staff, will still win you a lot of baseball games. Also, unlike the pitching staff, there is reason to believe the offense will improve somewhat when Francisco Cervelli returns from the disabled list in a few weeks.
Also, Andrew McCutchen finally showed signs of life last night against the Mets. So maybe just maybe, McCutchen is snapping out of his season long slump. Even more encouraging than the results, three hits including a double and a home run, from McCutchen was him demonstrating his short quick swing that Pirate fans had become so accustomed to over the past seven seasons.
Once again, the reason I am so pessimistic right now is this pitching staff. It has been a mess all season, has hit a new low in June, and there does not seem to be a lot of help on the horizon. Honestly, what would help this team most would be for Francisco Liriano and Jon Niese to begin to pitch like the pitchers they have been the past three or four seasons. If that begins to happen, I will start to feel better about this team.
Next: Mets 6, Pirates 4: Stars And Stiffs
Things look pretty bleak for the Pittsburgh Pirates right now. Their pitching staff has struggled all season, and has only gotten worse in June, injuries are starting to pile up, and the remaining schedule for this month is by far the most difficult in Major League Baseball.
Due to these reasons, I can not help but wonder are we currently witnessing the beginning of the end of the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates? While I sincerely hope that I am wrong, I believe that we are indeed witnessing that right now. Largely because I do not expect this pitching staff to be good enough the rest of the month to even so much as tread water against the brutal upcoming schedule.
This weekend the Pirates travel to Wrigley Field to play the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates enter this series with an overall record of 33-33. Odds are, the Pirates will finish this series below .500 for the first time all season. Things may start to get ugly and fast for this team.