Pittsburgh Pirates: Where Did It Go Wrong?

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates season is basically done and dusted at this point. 5.5 games out of a Wild Card spot with 17 games remaining, it is not mathematically impossible for the 71-74 Buccos to sneak their way in, but it’s very unlikely. Pirates fans went into this season with high hopes of continuing playoff success, so where did this season go awry?

Hindsight is crystal clear, but I think we all had our doubts going into this season. In the offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost a few key pieces of previous seasons’ playoff runs, such as the Pittsburgh Kid Neil Walker, J.A. Happ, and Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates got some replacements in Jon Niese and John Jaso, but skepticism was abound going into the season. But we still had high hopes of a playoff run, because that is what he had gotten used to since 2013. So where did it all go south? Let’s take a look at some key players who have underperformed for key stretches of the season.

Gerrit Cole

I love Gerrit Cole as much as the next Pirates fan. He plays with a constant intensity that is nice to see in today’s nonchalant style of baseball. Does he get too fired up sometimes? Yeah, probably, but I will take that as an occupational hazard when he takes the mound. What I, and all other Bucs fans, will not take however, is an ace with stats such as Cole’s, especially in recent weeks as he has not been 100% healthy with elbow inflammation.

Cole finishes his season with a record of 7-10, a 3.88 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, only 11 quality starts out of 21, a .349 BABIP, and a 2.79 BB/9. Now, these numbers aren’t awful by any means, and maybe they’re not even bad. But coming from the absolute stud that Cole is, we expect them to be better. I think the Pirates made the correct decision in shutting him down for the season and saving that elbow for next year and beyond. Something has clearly not been right with the Cole Train this season, so let’s hope our star pitcher can right the ship by the start of next season.

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John Jaso

The first base position has been the Pirates’ Achilles’ heel over the last few years. We have either had first basemen who can hit but can’t field their position, like Pedro Alvarez, or we have had first basemen who can field their position but can’t hit, like Justin Morneau.

I’m not really sure where Jaso fits into that spectrum. The only word I can use is mediocre, and even though that may sound a bit harsh on Jaso, he’s not especially great in the field or at the dish. To be fair to him, it was his first season at first base and he only made four errors, but at some points in the season, it felt like he couldn’t hit a baseball out of a wet paper bag. Jaso had big shoes to fill in the eyes of some Pirates fans, with beloved and hated enigma Pedro Alvarez headed to Baltimore, and he didn’t. Jaso had a very run-of-the-mill, bang-average season when the Pirates needed someone to step in and be a beast at first base.

Please, Josh Bell, learn to play the field. We need this.

Andrew McCutchen

Yeah, you probably saw this one coming. Cutch has been a shell of his former self this season. Our MVP, our city’s savior, the baddest dude in the league, was only the third best player on his team this season behind Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, in my opinion. He has surged in Philadelphia recently, so the power numbers aren’t really representative of the whole season. As it stands right now, Cutch is hitting .250. His career batting average is .292, so hopefully this season is just an anomaly.

What went wrong for Cutch? We all assumed he would shake himself out of his slump in July like usual, but the slump shake never came. Was it the move to the second slot in the batting order at the beginning of the season that did him in? Or is he just on the decline, seeing as he’s not exactly a spring chicken anymore? Whatever it is, let’s hope Cutch shakes himself out of it for future seasons, because I don’t think my heart could handle seeing my baseball idol leaving Pittsburgh.

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Maybe it’s unfair to single out these three players as the reasons the Pirates tanked this season. But there is no denying these three underperformed this season and will need to do better next year to avoid beginning another streak of 20 losing seasons.

Please get it together soon, guys. I cringed writing that sentence.

Go Bucs.