The 2019 MLB season is still young, but cracks are already showing in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen and infield defense.
For baseball fans across North America, April conjures images of Opening Day, fresh green grass, bunting on the grandstands, and October glory. For me, as a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, April conjures images of disastrous flooding.
I have a modest shore home that I close for the winter, and I love April because that’s when I open it for the season. But there’s also a sense of dread as I pray that the winter cold didn’t burst my pipes. This year, my pipes had a leak that, had it gone undetected, could have flooded my place.
Anyone who knows me would scoff if I claimed to have fixed this leak myself. My girlfriend would pull a muscle from laughing so hard. But not to worry; just like Kramer in Seinfeld, I got a guy. My guy tells me I need valve stem replacements, and I nod like I know what those are. They could cost $5 or $5,000, I have no clue.
Like my pipes, the Pittsburgh Pirates have leaks. The question is, does Clint Hurdle got a guy?
The bullpen is showing cracks. Last year’s team lost three times all season when leading after seven innings, this year’s squad has dropped three already. Those losses count just as much as the ones in August. Felipe Vazquez’s two-inning save Sunday needs to be his last two-inning save of the season. Keep bringing him out in the eighth and he’ll be on the IL by June.
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The talent level tells me the pen is fixable. Perhaps Kyle Crick is Hurdle’s guy to take over eighth inning duties when he comes off the IL. The skipper could shift Rodriguez to the 8th, though that didn’t work too well in Washington, Burdi to the 7th, and Kela to long relief, unless Kela figures things out soon. And by soon I mean yesterday.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is not a team of mashers. They’ll rarely run away with games, so their margin of error hangs on a knife’s edge. What you saw in Washington is a microcosm of what you’ll see all year – two one-run games and another that went extra innings. If the bullpen isn’t alright, this team has no chance.
What began as a trickle of infield errors is in danger of becoming a deluge. The Pittsburgh Pirates will likely live and die with Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Erik Gonzalez, Jung Ho Kang/Colin Moran and an occasional dose of Kevin Newman. Kang has more hits than errors, but that’s only because he doesn’t have any errors. The same cannot be said for the rest.
Of that group, Bell has the fewest miscues. He’s been fantastic at the plate, but if Josh Bell is your best fielder, it’s time to unhook the lifeboats. Thanks largely to the infield, the Pirates rank 15th in the NL in fielding percentage. In case you’re wondering, that’s out of 15.
A team that defends like this better rake, but they’re on pace to hit fewer home runs than they did last year, which is saying something. While three Buccos have three errors, only one, Bell, has three homers. It took 12 games for the team to hit its first three-run dinger. They have 14 errors to 10 home runs. Anyone have a distress flare?
An optimist would say, ‘look, we’re above .500 with Gregory Polanco and Corey Dickerson on the IL. We’re in good shape, and we’ll only get better.’ But this management team has not engendered an optimistic fan base. Cynicism rules, and for good reason. Pirate management deserves every disaster comparison it gets, which brings me to my earlier question.
Hurdle does indeed got a guy. His name is Neal Huntington.
When a house starts taking on water, it’s too late to fix the problem. My shore home, built before I was born, was designed such that the pipes are exposed to the elements. The problem is in the blueprint.