An offense that started the year strong has endured some major struggles in the last two weeks as the losses have piled up for the Pittsburgh Pirates
On April 29, the Pittsburgh Pirates swept a doubleheader against the Washington Nationals in our nation's capital. In the second game, the Pirates won, 16-1. There was such a positive feeling about this team after that win. Vince Velasquez went six scoreless innings and the bats came alive.
Ke'Bryan Hayes went 2-3 and scored three runs, Bryan Reynolds went 2-2 and scored three runs, Carlos Santana went 3-4, scored twice and drove in three, and Jason Delay, the "backup" catcher, went 2-3, scored three runs and drove in one.
The best story of them all that night was longtime minor leaguer Drew Maggi had the first two hits of his career. In fact, Maggi went 2-2 including his first double, his first run scored, and his first run batted in.
What has happened since? The Pirates came crashing down to Earth.
Before Sunday afternoon's 4-0 win over Baltimore, the Pirates had lost eleven of their last twelve games.
Granted, three of the four teams they dropped series to were outstanding American League Eastern Division teams in Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore. Dropping two out of three to Colorado, a team they swept in the Rocky Mountains in mid-April, really stung.
What has gone wrong? Some may point to the fact that the starting pitching has not come through as before as they have had only two quality starts in this stretch before Mitch Keller struck out thirteen and gave up only four hits in seven shutout innings this afternoon.
Some may point to mediocre fielding. Some may point to the fact that our base runners are getting thrown out more often as opponents are more keenly aware of the Pirates' propensity for stealing bases as often as they had been doing.
All of the above reasons have contributed to the Pirates losing eleven of twelve before today. However, one can truly look no further than their success at the plate, or lack thereof, recently as a major cause of decline.
The obvious statistic that appears is the fact that in that stretch, Pittsburgh never scored more than three runs. What's more is that they only scored three runs twice.
Even in their one win, they only scored twice as Mitch Keller shutout the Colorado Rockies on Monday.
Go back to the win over Washington in Game 2 of a doubleheader. The Pirates, as mentioned, scored sixteen runs that evening. Over the previous twelve games, they scored sixteen runs.
Individual statistics paint a grimmer picture.
The best of the regulars during this eleven of twelve losing streak has actually been Tucupita Marcano. He hit for a .261 average (6 for 23) with two extra base hits. Marcano was 1-2 today.
The second best has been, as you might expect, Bryan Reynolds. He hit .255 with six extra base hits. The rest of the hitters? Not cool!
The next best in terms of batting average is Ji-Hwan Bae, who hit for a .222 average in that stretch, but with only one extra base hit. He does have four stolen bases, but has been caught twice. Before that, he stole eight and was caught only once.
Here are the worst of the rest:
Ke'Bryan Hayes: .220 average, one extra base hit.
Connor Joe: .211 average, but six extra base hits to lead the club in the last twelve games.
Andrew McCutchen: .208 average, two extra base hits.
Jason Delay: .167 average with no extra base hits.
Carlos Santana: . 136 average with two extra base hits.
Rodolfo Castro: .136 average, one extra base hit.
Jack Suwinski: .111 average with one extra base hit.
Austin Hedges: .095 average with one extra base hit.
One would think that Hedges would be the worst of the bunch. Instead, that honor goes to the aforementioned Andujar, who since his huge Washington doubleheader has hit .039 (that's 1 for 26) with one extra base hit.
Is it time to cut bait and make some big roster moves or should they stay the course and hope it self-corrects? That's not truly up for us to say.
How about a show of hands who actually thought, during that time or even before the games began, that the Pirates could maintain a .714 winning percentage throughout the season?
It's one of those situations that the Pirates really are not as good as that .714 winning percentage would indicate and are certainly not as bad as .083 winning percentage they had been on before winning today.
The schedule coming up in the next month is not nearly as formidable as having to face the top three teams in the best division in baseball. In fact, the Pirates get to face the Oakland A's in June.
There is a lot of time left and truly a lot of fun baseball to come. With a team this young, there will be inconsistencies.
Hopefully, we'll see more of the .714 brand of Pirate baseball than the .083.
No question about it, though, that the hitting has to get back on a somewhat closer level to their performance in April than it has in May if the Pirates are even to consider realistically contending.
Hitting coach Andy Haines sure hopes that is the case. While it is not a suggestion to do so, if the hitting performance of the Pirates continues to slide as it has recently, Haines may be the scapegoat because it won't be manager Derek Shelton because of his recent contract extension.