Pittsburgh Pirates flaws on display in Wrigley
By Joe Smeltzer
Despite a brutal weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t out of the NL Central race yet.
While it would shock all realistic thinkers if the Pittsburgh Pirates somehow ended up winning their first division championship since the Bush administration (that’s H.W., not W), this season has had enough ups and downs to the point where we should come to expect peaks and valleys from the Pirates and everybody else in the NL Central. Nobody should have been surprised when Pittsburgh went 5-2 to close out the first half, and followed it up by stinking up Wrigley Field this past weekend. That inconsistency has kind of been a theme all season, and a mighty frustrating one.
Contrary to what Sunday’s Twitter feed and Monday’s talk radio would have you believe, losing three straight games in the middle of July is hardly a death sentence. However, the Pirates most recent trip to the Windy City reminded us of something that we probably forgot when the team was in the midst of its usual pre-All-Star Break surge, which that it has some glaring flaws.
Another frustrating storyline for the 2019 Pirates has been that out of the starting pitching, offense and bullpen, two of the three have struggled while the other has been doing its part. In April, the starting pitchers were dealing while the offense and bullpen were making sure it didn’t matter.
Since then, the offense has sang on key, while the starting pitchers and bullpen’s voices have cracked
To be fair, the starting rotation in particular has taken a beating injury wise. Enough pitchers have gone on the injured list to form a M*A*S*H unit. With that said, the healthy arms aren’t doing their incapacitated teammates many favors. Here are the current ERAs of the Pirates regular starters, not counting young Dario Agrazal, who with just three Big League starts, hasn’t gotten enough of a sample for judgement.
Joe Musgrove: 4.15
Trevor Williams: 5.17
Chris Archer: 5.42
Jordan Lyles: 5.16
I realize ERA is a flawed metric, so for my analytics people, here are the current FIP and xFIP of these men.
So, whether you’re a traditionalist or a stat geek, its easy to see that the Pirates starting rotation isn’t right, and that was on full display in Illinois. Saturday afternoon was Lyles’ official proclamation that he’s not the man that anchored the Pirates rotation in May but rather the real Jordan Lyles, who has been a fringe starter since 2011. Sunday, Williams was what he’s been since coming off the IL in late June, and that’s bad. This weekend’s outlier was Chris Archer, which brings me to my next point.
Archer had his best outing as a Pirate Friday afternoon. He struck out 10 and did so efficiently.
Over six innings, he allowed only a run. Most importantly, Chris Archer looked the Chris Archer the Pirates traded for, not the Chris Archer the Pirates tried to create upon acquiring him. He looked like himself, and it was beautiful.
For a hot second, it looked like Archer’s efforts wouldn’t go to waste. When Archer faltered in the seventh, the Pirates found themselves down 3-0 heading into the eighth. A Starling Marte moonshot tied the game, and the Bucs suddenly had all the momentum. Then, just as suddenly, they lost it. A reliever not named Felipe Vazquez started the eighth inning, promptly gave up a run, and that was that.
The Pirates bullpen isn’t quite the mess that their starting rotation is. If nothing else, The ‘pen has its rock in Vazquez, while the rotation is missing its rock in Jameson Taillon. The one unfortunate trait both the starters and relievers share, however, is that they are struggling.
Here are that stats of two of the Pirates top relievers sans “The Nightmare”
Kyle Crick: 5.32 FIP, 5.14 ERA (since June 1)
Francisco Liriano: 6.70 ERA since June 1
The Pirates most reliable non-Vazquez option is Richard Rodriguez, who has undeniably been fantastic over the past month and a half. It’s worth noting, however, that this man was inept to the point of demotion less than 50 days ago, and the fanbase would have gladly driven him to Indianapolis or anywhere else within a 10-hour radius to get him outta tahn.
I’m not saying Rodriguez will fall apart again, but it wouldn’t hurt Pittsburgh to have somebody a little more established as its second most reliable bullpen arm. The Pirates might get their man when Keone Kela comes off the IL, but only if he’s good, which he wasn’t (5.69 FIP) at the time of his injury more than two months ago.
I believe that the 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates will be in the NL Central race for the majority of the season. This team’s grit, along with the rest of the division having major flaws as well, along with a (hopefully) rejuvenated Archer makes me believe that the Bucs will be there till close to the end.
This weekend in Wrigley, however, showed that the Pirates still have a lot of work to do, and if Neal Huntington believes this team can at least flirt with Buctober, he’ll be on the phone looking for a starting pitcher and a bullpen arm before too long.