The Pittsburgh Pirates have now lost seven straight games with each loss coming against a NL Central opponent, dropping the team to a season high three games under .500. Is this a short slump or a look at what's to come?
"Losing streaks are funny. If you lose at the beginning, you got off to a bad start. If you lose in the middle of the season, you're in a slump. If you lose at the end, you're choking" -Gene Mauch
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a horrendous slump.
The hope that was left has dwindled immensely after the Bucs lost six consecutive games this past week. Perhaps recent history can tell us where the Pirates will end up by the end of this 2023 season.
In 2018, 45 games into the season, the Bucs were seven games above .500. They would go on to finish with a respectable 82-79 record, but missed out on the National League Wild Card by eight games. In 2019, 45 games into the season, the Bucs were three games above .500. They finished that season at 69-93. The 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons were all losing seasons that aren't worth mentioning.
The Pirates roster in 2023 has similar talent to that of the 2018 team. Remember that squad? The players in 2018 included Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson, and Adam Frazier. The team wasn't outstanding by any means, but there was certainly hope throughout the season. The problem in 2018 was that the National League Central was the toughest division in the National League. In 2023, that will surely not be the case. This means that if the Pirates can finish around five games over .500 by the end of the year, they have a solid chance of winning the division.
If that is to happen, the hot and cold Bucs must find a way to be more steady, principally against NL Central opponents. The Bucs had an impressive 10-4 record against the NL Central before thir seven straight losses agaisnt the Cubs and Brewers.
The team's problem over the past week has been the bullpen's struggles. Several losses on this seven-game losing streak have been blown leads, including the final game of the Brewers series. The Pirates blew a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning against the Brewers and needed three different pitchers to end the bludgeoning.
"When we have multiple walks in a leverage inning, runs are going to score. That’s what we saw," Derek Shelton said after the game.
Shelton is not wrong. Of the 51 runs that the Pirates allowed during the seven-game losing streak, 21 of those runs came via a walk, hit by pitch, or catcher interference.
The Bottom Line
Entering play on Monday, the Pirate bullpen ranked 29th in MLB with a 7.69 ERA. Monday night, t bullpen allowed 5 more runs in 4 innings of work. The Bucs rank 22nd in team bullpen ERA thus far into the 2023 season. If the Pirate pitching continues to struggle, so will the team's record. Basically, if they are going to right the ship, the pitching must improve. 2021 no. 1 overall pick Henry Davis will boost the offense's recent struggles, but it means nothing if the pitching continues to be this dull.
The Pirates still have hope to prove doubters wrong and make a playoff push in 2023, but it is getting increasingly less likely by the day. Keep an eye on relievers Dauri Moreta and Yohan Ramirez over the next week to see if they can re-establish balance in the bullpen. If not, it will be a long summer for the same old Bucs.