Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan. If you think the Pirates are bad, you should see their AA team.

The Altoona Curve lost 15 in a row. Here's an anatomy of a losing streak:
Altoona Curve v Portland Sea Dogs
Altoona Curve v Portland Sea Dogs / Zachary Roy/GettyImages

In the midst of the Pirates' troubles generating offense since April 15, Pirates fans may not have noticed that one of the team's minor league affiliates - the Altoona Curve - was having some difficulties of their own. The concept of scoring more runs than one's opponent, it seems, had eluded Altoona for 15 straight games. The streak was finally broken on Sunday, May 5, when the Curve beat the Harrisburg Senators by a score of 6-2. In that game, both top pitching prospects Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo pitched, with Chandler recording a three-inning save. But prior to this victory, from April 19 through May 4, Altoona had lost 15 straight games.

In MLB, when a team's fan base realizes that their team is no longer in contention, the cry goes out, "Wait till next year." Luckily for Altoona Curve fans, there is both a first half and a second half to a minor league baseball season. And so for the Curve, who currently sit in last place with a 7-23 record and 12.5 games out of first, their fans can confidently exclaim, "Wait till the second half!"

When a team loses 15 in a row, there is any combination of factors that contribute to the losing. Poor pitching is generally the main culprit followed closely by a lack of hitting. There is often a combination of both that leads to the losing. And then there is also the bad luck factor involved. You know, it goes like this. The day your team finally decides to score some runs is the day that the pitching breaks down. Or on a day when the pitching is excellent, the bats go silent.

And so it was with the Curve. During the 15-game losing streak, they lost seven one-run games. They were shut out in three of the games. They blew late-inning leads in four of the games. Sometimes, they got good pitching but still lost. And sometimes they scored five or more runs, but still lost. If you looked in the mirror at those losses, you might have thought you were looking at the Pirates.

During the losing streak, the Curve found ways to lose that even a Pirates fan might find novel.

Take the April 28 game against the Akron Zips, for example. It was the ninth game of the losing streak. After spotting Akron a 4-0 early lead, the Curve came back to tie it in the seventh at 5-5. But in the top of the ninth, with a runner on first and two outs, the Zips' second baseman, Petey Halpin, hit a fly ball to left center field. It was going to be the third out of the inning until center fielder Jase Bowen and left fielder Joe Perez collided knocking the ball to the ground.

Halpin ended up on third after the play, and the runner on first, Yordys Valdes, scored what would prove to be the winning run of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, the Curve would put runners on first and second with one out, but would be unable to score either of them. And thus did the Akron Zips complete a six-game sweep of the Curve.

Or take the April 25 game against Akron, which the Curve lost 4-0. Now, when a team gets shut out, one would usually presume that the team that was shut out was victimized by a pitcher on top of his game that day. That was not necessarily the case here. Four Akron pitchers combined to shut out the Curve. This is true.

But on top of their game? Well, not exactly. The Akron pitchers walked nine Curve batters during the contest while giving up four hits. In this game, the Curve hitters were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13 runners on base. The 4-0 final score is not indicative of the fact that a couple of well-timed hits by the Curve would not only have broken up the shutout, but might have resulted in a Curve victory.

You know things are going bad when even your ace pitcher can't stop the losing streak. Bubba Chandler was the starting pitcher in the fifth game of the losing streak. Chandler is a consensus top-five prospect in the Pirates' system, so if you want to stop a losing streak, having Chandler start is a good idea. So, on April 25, again against those Akron Zips, Chandler is sent out to put his foot down and stop this losing streak.

Like the major leagues, pitchers in the minor leagues are kept on tight pitch count leashes. Unlike the major leagues, however, those pitch count leashes apply to the number of pitches a pitcher can throw in a single inning.

Which is how it came to be that Bubba Chandler was unable to get out of the first inning of that April 25 game. He faced five hitters. He retired two of them, one by a strikeout. But he also walked two and hit another to load the bases with two outs. Unfortunately, he had thrown 34 pitches by this point. And as such, he was not allowed to face the sixth batter in the lineup. And so Chandler leaves the game. The score is still 0-0 at this point, but the bases are loaded with two out.

So in comes Valentin Linarez in relief in the first inning to put out the fire. If Linarez gets the first batter he faces out, Chandler's day will end at two-thirds of an inning pitched with no runs and no hits allowed.

But, of course, Linarez doesn't get that out. He instead gives up a two-run single. And Chandler's book ends up being two-thirds of an inning, two earned runs allowed. Linarez would then go on to give up five more runs of his own in the second to fourth innings, making the score 7-1. The Curve would mount a comeback, but it would fall short as the Curve would lose 8-7.

The 15-game losing steak aside, the Altoona Curve's season has been a major disappointment.

As a team, they are batting .218. They have scored the fewest runs in the Eastern League and hit the fewest home runs. Their pitching staff has given up the second-most runs. This is not exactly the recipe for winning ball games.

Individually, several players who appear on the Pirates top prospects lists are having poor seasons:

- Tsung-Che Cheng, the #9 prospect, is batting just .203.
- Tres Gonzalez, the #28 prospect, is batting .194.
- Jase Bowen, the #20 prospect, is batting .189.
- Anthony Solometo, the #4 prospect, has a 5.06 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP.
- Braxton Ashcraft, the #7 prospect, has a 6.64 ERA and opponents are batting .307 against him.

The only top pitching prospect that is performing to the hype is Bubba Chandler. He has a 3.10 ERA, but opponents are batting just .197 against him. He has also struck out 23 batters in just 20.1 innings pitched.

In order for a small market franchise to succeed in the major leagues, it needs to build and develop a deep prospect pool. At the AA level is where the proverbial rubber meets the road for prospects. If a prospect can succeed at AA, there is a good chance that he can be a future major leaguer. Show me a successful small market team, and I will show you a deep and talented AA and AAA minor league squad that preceded that success.

Which is why, as a Pirates fan, I am concerned about the performance of this Altoona Curve team. Save for Bubba Chandler, all of the Pirates' top prospects at the AA level seem to be struggling this year. This year's edition of the Curve does not appear to be either deep or talented (again, save for Chandler). And what lessons must these players be learning as they lose game after game?

One might cynically argue that the Curve's current struggles are preparing them for the struggles that they are certain to encounter should they make it to the majors as Pittsburgh Pirates. Losing begets losing.

But, hey, Curve fans. Don't despair. There is always the second half.