Pittsburgh Pirates Week in Review 6/8 – 6/14
The Pittsburgh Pirates went, yet again, 2-4 this week. Below .500, the club is now a full eight games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. To say that things don’t look good would be an understatement.
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s the theme of this series – you know what, no. Screw the introduction. There ain’t no good this week. The Pirates stink right now and who knows if they will ever be any good again. Welcome to the bad and the ugly. The place where we all can rant about the 2018 Pirates.
Here is the reality of what is to come. To avoid being sellers at the trade deadline in the Neal Huntington Era, the Pirates need to be in competition to win the NL Central by the All-Star Break. Remember, last year the Pirates were above .500 and were still glorified sellers at the deadline, so being above .500 in and of itself is not good enough. Who can blame Huntington though? There are three quality playoff contenders ahead of the Pirates right now in the Cardinals, Cubs, and Brewers.
The Pirates have 15 games left in June and 29 games left before the All-Star Break mid-July. To compete, the Pirates would have to win at least 18 of those games. This would put the team at 51-46 and five games above .500. Anything less and I believe the Bucs will be sellers. The good news is that over those 29 games the Pirates play terrible teams like the Brewers, Nationals, Diamondbacks, Phillies, and Dodgers (that was sarcasm).
The Pirates have no chance at winning a series of games unless their bullpen performs better. With a rejuvenated Ivan Nova and talented Joe Musgrove, the starting rotation is not terrible, and of course, the offense is very capable. The bullpen let the Pirates down again, having terrible outings on Monday and Tuesday. Both of these outings deserve to be talked about in depth.
More from Rum Bunter
- Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Stockwatch: Outfielder Tres Gonzalez
- Pittsburgh Pirates Podcast: Rum Bunter Radio Talks Winter Meetings Fallout
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Leadoff Hitters in 2023
- Pittsburgh Pirates: The Rotation is not being Improved
- Pittsburgh Pirates Make Vince Velasquez Signing Official
Monday’s game against the Diamondbacks was one of the most painful games of baseball I have ever witnessed. Joe Musgrove was on cruise control having pitched six shutout innings.
He started the seventh inning by pegging center fielder Chris Owings with a baseball. I am sure the majority of Pirates’ fans and players appreciated this action since the Diamondbacks had hit and almost hit, many of the Pirates’ players throughout the night. However, David Freese (karma anyone?), made a bad fielding error and the inning turned into a five-run nightmare.
The real damage happened though when the bullpen got involved.
When Musgrove was pulled, the Pirates were still winning by a healthy margin. Then three straight Pirate relievers gave up two runs a piece, blowing a five-run lead. Somehow, the Pirates not only found a way to lose but also to embarrass Musgrove who was sticking up for his teammates.
Thought Monday’s game was rough? Tuesday was worse.
The Pirates committed three fielding errors in the first inning alone, leading to six total runs, four of which were unearned. I probably could have driven down the road and seen better defense being played by the local little league team.
Seriously though, one of the circus errors will most likely end up on all of the “worst baseball plays ever” YouTube videos. In classic Pirate fashion though, shooting themselves in the foot only once during the game was not good enough. The team would go on to score six runs in the fourth inning, only to have that hope deflated by another five runs given up by the bullpen.
To put the icing on the cake, the Pirates attempted to solve their bullpen problem by calling up Dovydas Neverauskas. Neverauskas promptly gave up five runs in less than two innings pitched to the surprise of no one except Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle.
I mean, with an 11.32 ERA, it’s pretty clear that the guy doesn’t belong in the majors. At the very least, he is not the solution to the Pirates’ bullpen woes.
Felipe Vazquez is also struggling. He walked three batters on Wednesday in the ninth inning, almost blowing another multi-run lead. With a 4.73 ERA on the season, Vasquez doesn’t seem to be finding a solution to the pitching problems that date all the way back to Spring Training.
So who is to blame?
Neal Huntington and Ray Searage. I actually thought the bullpen was going to be good this year, but luckily I don’t make important decisions for the Pirates. However, Neal Huntington does make those decisions, and he gets paid quite a bit of money to do so. When you are high up on the totem pole, the buck stops with you. Huntington is responsible for constructing a bullpen that is competent, and this year’s bullpen is far from it.
Three years ago everyone thought Searage had the golden touch – rejuvenating the careers of many pitchers that had seemed washed up. However, I am removing those blinders. The cases against Searage’s golden touch are stacking up. Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Tyler Glasnow should all be shutout top-of-the-rotation aces for the Pirates, but none of them were once they reached the Big League club.
In fact, if you look at the Triple-A Indianapolis statistics from the past five years, you would think that the Pirates would have the best starting rotation in the entire MLB. Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, and Steven Brault all pitched lights out until they met Searage. I would argue that all six pitchers I have named, plus many bullpen arms have all regressed under Searage.
I don’t think that Clint Hurdle should be completely excused either. He started Gregory Polanco in four games last week. This alone would be considered insane by the majority of even half-knowledgeable baseball enthusiasts. In case you were wondering, Polanco went 2-14 this week (one of the two hits was an infield hit), dropping his batting average even further to .204.
I’m not saying changes need to be made quite yet to the Pirates’ coaching staff. But when a team is losing this badly and this often, and in quite embarrassing ways, changes tend to follow.
I was unable to cover all of the Pirates’ woes in the bad section this week, so I want to point out an interesting recap of an interview with Neal Huntington. During this interview, Huntington addresses many issues including Sean Rodriguez’s impressive strikeout rate, Adam Frazier option to Triple-A, and the lack of room for Nick Kingham in the starting rotation. Sadly, he says nothing useful about Gregory Polanco.
I wasn’t planning on talking about Jung Ho Kang again so soon, but he is tearing up the minor league system. Kang is hitting .306/.409/.611/1.020 and has already collected his first hit at Triple-A. With Kang’s inevitable call-up, Sean Rodriguez’s leash may be running out sooner rather than later. Though I could also see the Pirates trading David Freese or Jordy Mercer in July to clear room for the South Korean slugger.
Corey Dickerson has really impressed me this season. Dickerson showed incredible professionalism by recognizing his tendency to strikeout at a high rate. He then took a step towards solving that problem. The solution he found was to choke up on the bat with two strikes. This simple fix has dropped Dickerson’s strikeout rate from 26.3% in 2016 and 25.9% in 2017 to 12.1% in 2018. I’m very impressed with Dickerson and it is a shame that he sits every third day for Gregory Polanco.
Next: Breaking Down Chad Kuhl's Recent Success
That’s all for this week! I hope the Bucs turn things around – I truly believe that they still can. Let’s go Bucs!
The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:
June 15th – Reds @ the Pirates 7:05
June 16th – Reds @ the Pirates 4:05
June 17th – Reds @ the Pirates1:35
June 18th – Brewers @ the Pirates 7:05
June 19th – Brewers @ the Pirates 7:05
June 20th – Brewers @ the Pirates 7:05
June 21st – Diamondbacks @ the Pirates 7:05