Diary of a long suffering Pirates fan: Games 16, 17, 18: Oh, No! Three game losing streak. Please make it stop.

Is this a hiccup or more of the same old Pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets
Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Three losses in a row.  For a good team, three losses in a row is a hiccup.  An anomaly that is expected in a 162 season.  For a Pirates fan, the Pirates first three-game losing streak of the season is typically the first hard evidence that there is about to be another disappointing season to follow.  It usually happens in April.  And the losing streak usually doesn’t stop at 3. 

T.S. Elliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.”  That sentence is the opening stanza of his famous poem, “The Wasteland.”  There is no evidence to support the theory that T.S. Elliot was a Pirate’s fan.  And “The Wasteland,” is not a non-fiction history of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise’s post-1979 seasons.  But if there are any Pittsburgh Pirates historians reading this and looking to chronicle the non-exploits of the Pirates for the past 44 years, “The Wasteland,” is a catchy title.

In 2023 the Pirates first prolonged losing streak started on April 30.  It was the beginning of a 7-game losing streak that continued to snowball into their losing 11 out of the next 12 games. And it seemed to come from nowhere in a period when the Pirates were playing their best baseball.  They were 20-8 when that losing streak began and were coming off a streak of 4 wins in a row and wins in 11 out of 12 games.

So, I hope you will excuse me if I jump to the conclusion that the first three-game losing streak for the Pirates in 2024 looks eerily similar to the 2023 losing streak in that it is seemingly coming out of nowhere following a stretch where the Pirates had played some very good baseball.

After Sunday’s uplifting victory against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pirates should have entered New York riding on a high.  The Pirates were tied for first place with an 11-5 record.  The starting pitching had been excellent to open the season and the Pirates were a top 10 team in runs scored. What could possibly go wrong in New York?

Just about everything. 

The Pirates didn’t hit.  And the bullpen was atrocious.  And just like that, the Pirates have their first three-game losing streak of the season. 

In losing three in a row, the Pirates looked like the Pirates of old.  There was the squandering of scoring opportunities, there were blown saves, there were costly errors, there was an implosion on getaway day, and, for good measure, there were some questionable umpiring calls that didn’t go the Pirate’s way.  Just your typical road series for the Pirates. 

The numbers do not look pretty from this series:  Let’s review:

  1. The Pirates scored five runs in three games.

2.       The Pirates had only one extra base hit the entire series.

3.       The Pirates were 4 for 18 with runners in scoring position, and stranded 19 runners on base for the series.

4.       The Pirates managed only 13 hits for the entire series.

5.       The Pirates were mowed down by the Met’s bullpen, managing to score only 1 run and collecting only 1 hit in 10 2/3 innings against the Mets’ relievers.

6.       The Pirates struck out 30 times in the series.

7.       Pirates’ relievers allowed 13 runs in the series with 2 blown saves and 2 losses.

8.       The Mets stole 5 bases.  Henry Davis did not throw out nary a runner.

9.       And just like old times, former St. Louis Cardinal Harrison Bader tortured the Pirates with clutch hits and outstanding glove work in the field.  He entered the series with a .390 career batting average against the Pirates.  Alas, there was no regression to the norm in this series for him.  

Funny thing.  If not for the Get Away Day implosion, the story of this series was going to be the umpiring.  In game 1 of the series, some bad balls and strikes umpiring led to a meltdown by  Aroldis Chapman that cost the Pirates the first game of the series.  The Chapman meltdown inning was started when a strike 3 got passed Henry Davis allowing for a one-out baserunner instead of a two-out and nobody-on situation.  Some balls and strikes were missed by the umpire prior to and after that play, leading to some walks some hits, and eventually 3 runs across the plate.   Chapman was thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes.

On Tuesday, the umpires were at it again.  With the score tied and runners on 2nd and 3rd, a balk was called on Jose Hernandez, which allowed the Mets’ winning run to trot home.  A football announcer calling the play would no doubt have described the balk call as “ticky tacky.”  Unfortunately, the Pirates broadcasts do not have the equivalent of the NFL’s Gene Steratore to come on and explain why it was or wasn’t a balk or whether the umpire should have put away the flag and let the players play.  Much to my disappointment, Derek Shelton, in the post-game conference, provided his opinion that it was indeed a balk.  The Pirate announcers and this writer and probably most of the fanbase beg to differ.

But as Wednesday’s Get Away implosion made quite clear, the Pirates three game losing streak was not the fault of the umpires.  Bad calls, yes.  Costly calls, yes.  But, at the end of the day, the Pirates lost these games because they did not score a lot of runs. 

There was, of course, one bright spot in this three-game losing streak.  Jared Jones again looked fabulous.  He pitched 5 innings and gave up only one hit. He struck out 7 and didn’t walk a batter.  He threw 50 of 59 pitches for strikes.  Jared Jones's starts are becoming must see TV.

The Pirates lack of offense in this series coincides with an injury to Ke'Bryan Hayes, who sat out both Tuesday and Wednesday's games due to back discomfort. Hopefully, he mends soon.

The Pirates are off today.  They return home to face the Red Sox on Friday.  If they want to prove that 2024 will be different in a good way from 2023, they need to stop the losing streak now before it spirals into “losses by the bunches” that are the hallmarks of  most Pirates seasons for the past 44 years.