The Pittsburgh Pirates went 2-5 this week, a result of splitting a four game series with the Cubs, and being swept by the Braves. The offense has gone completely silent and has officially taken the Pirates out of playoff contention.
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s the theme of this series – shout out to the Italian man himself, Francisco Cervelli, for the inspiration. Let’s jump into the week that was!
The good and the bad sections will be self-explanatory, looking at both the good and the bad of the week. The ugly will simply be a section that covers all of the other random notes of importance from the week.
Man, it is tough to sit down and write an article about the Pirates at this point in the season. That brief stretch with the 11 game winning streak ended up being a tease, nothing more and nothing less. Actually, I take that back. The winning streak made the subsequent losing streak even more painful to witness. With perfect hindsight, I almost would have preferred if the team had continued to lose back around the All-Star break – then I wouldn’t have had to endure another month of roller-coaster like baseball.
Either way, sitting at 63-65, it is very safe to say that the Pirates are well out of playoff contention – even another miraculous 11 game winning streak will most likely not change that fact. The Pirates would have to go somewhere in the realm of 26-8 the rest of the season to contend for a post-season spot.
There have been two major reasons why the Pirates have struggled over this last stretch, offense and management – let’s take a look at them both.
The Pirates have played seven games since the last edition of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Over those seven games, the Pirates have scored only seven times. What makes this lack of offense hurt even more is that the Pirates have lost three separate games over this stretch by a score of 1-0. In addition, they lost a game to the Braves by the score of 2-1. The Pirates could have easily gone 6-1 this past week if the bats would have showed up in even mediocre fashion.
One of the cold bats on the Pirates’ roster is owned by Starling Marte. Marte went 4-21 over this past week and perhaps is the epitome of what the Pirates have turned into this season. In the middle of the week, Marte was benched for showing a lack of effort on multiple occasions, one of which is included below.
In this play, Marte could have gotten into a run-down and allowed David Freese to advance to second base. Instead, Marte gave up on the play. Earlier in the game, Marte also failed to run out a potential infield hit, instead choosing to walk down the line. When your team is struggling to score even a single run in a game, these actions are clearly unacceptable.
But is Marte to blame for the general apathy that has spread throughout the entire team? No, that would be the management staff.
After a strong start to the season, Clint Hurdle and his coaching staff have produced one of the most below average seasons of Hurdle’s tenure. And below average quickly turns into abysmal when the team is clearly under-performing its talent. The Pirates giving Clint Hurdle a four year extension is looking to be one of the worst moves made under the Neal Huntington regime. Yes, the lack of performance falls on the players first and foremost, but there are many clear signs that Hurdle has done nothing to help the matter.
A good manager finds ways to lessen the length and sting of losing streaks. Hurdle has not done that this season. A good manager develops players and helps them reach their potential. Hurdle has clearly not developed many players during this season, much less his tenure. And finally, a manager figures out how to motivate his players while they are in the middle of a playoff push. The Marte situation is a prime example of how Hurdle has also failed in that aspect. Since his years in Colorado, Hurdle has always been known as a manager that is for the players, but sometimes lacks success with in-game decision making. This year the former has sorely regressed and the latter has not improved. For as great as a person Hurdle is, there is no upside in keeping him and his staff (including Jeff Branson) around to start the 2019 season.
While the Pirates’ offense was putting up record low numbers, the starting pitching was matching those records step by step. The starters put up incredible numbers this last week, giving up only eight runs over 42.3 innings and seven starts. As a staff, this equates to a 1.69 ERA. Minus Chris Archer, every starter had a game where they went at least six innings while giving up at most one run. Out of the bunch, I really liked Joe Musgrove’s start. He was efficient with his pitches, and even though his control wasn’t spot on, he was able to adjust and put up seven innings of one run ball.
On top of the starters pitching well, the bullpen kept pace and closed games out effectively in the late innings. The bullpen gave up a total of five runs over the past seven games, three of which were given up be Michael Feliz, who has already been sent back down to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Again, this week really stung for the Pirates in a bad way. The pitching was there at an elite level – a level high enough to spurn another 11 game winning streak. The Bucs bats just could not capitalize.
Adeiny Hechavarria is continuing to look like a really solid pick-up, even if he is leaving the Pirates after the 2018 season. During a week when the Pirates’ bats largely rang silent, Hechavarria seemed to put up solid at-bats that either put him on base, or drove in one of the few runs that the Pirates did score. He also makes difficult plays, like the one below, look easy.
One has to wonder if the Pirates are looking to make an
like move on Hechavarria. What I mean by this is, did the Pirates pick up Hechavarria at the end of this season to increase their chances of signing him this off-season? I think so. At shortstop next season, the Pirates have former first round pick
, but that is it.
will all be gone. The Pirates have no one behind Newman, and no one to step in to take his place if he goes down with an injury or rookie slump. Hechevarria would fill this hole while also improving the Pirates’ infield defense, an area that the Pirates have struggled with for multiple years now.
Steven Brault returns to the Pirates’ pen this year, and he might be auditioning for a spot in next year’s bullpen. During the 2018 season, Brault has put up 4.79 ERA with 61 strike outs and 47 walks. His opponent batting average at .251 is impressive, but the walk rate is unacceptably high. Unless Brault shows some improvement in that area the rest of the season, it would not surprise me if the Pirates moved on from him before the beginning of the next season.
Now that the Pirates’ 2018 playoff hopes have been dashed, looking forward to the 2019 season becomes a must. Where are the future stars of the Pirates? Well, Triple-A Indianapolis may have a few.
After a very shaky start in AAA, Pirates’ top prospect Mitch Keller has started to pitch better. Over his first five starts in AAA, Keller gave up 21 runs – not a pretty number. However, Keller has only given up three runs over his last three starts. Over those three starts, Keller went at least five innings in each game, while striking out 15 total batters. A strong end of the 2018 season for Keller could have him knocking on the door for a call-up in early 2019.
Offensively, fans should be looking forward to seeing the future second baseman of the Pirates, Kevin Kramer. Kramer is hitting .300/.358/.475/.833 through 436 at-bats in Indy. He is also leading the team in home runs with 13, and in RBIs with 54. It is highly unlikely that the Pirates will pick up Harrison’s option this year, so expect Kramer to begin the 2019 season on the Pirates’ roster.
That’s all for this week! Let’s go Bucs!
The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:
August 24th – Pirates @ the Brewers 8:10
August 25th – Pirates @ the Brewers 7:10
August 26th – Pirates @ the Brewers 2:10
August 28th – Pirates @ the Cardinals 8:15
August 29th – Pirates @ the Cardinals 8:15
August 30th – Pirates @ the Cardinals 7:15