After excelling in close games in the month of April, the Pittsburgh Pirates have struggled mightily in close games in May
As everyone knows, the month of April was a tremendous one for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Through the first month of the season they were the talk of baseball. Very unexpectedly, the Pirates finished April with a National League best 20-9 record.
A big reason the Pirates got off to the start they did was due to their success in close games. The Pirates played 17 games in the month of April, and including their 4-3 victory on Opening Day over the Reds on March 30th, that were decided by 3 runs or less. In these 17 games the Pirates went 12-5.
In the month of May, however, everything has changed.
After losing two of three over the weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Pirates are an abysmal 4-13. A big reason the team is 4-13 in the month of May is due to struggling in close games, a complete 180 from April.
Thus far in the month of May the Pittsburgh Pirates are 1-7 in games decided by 3 runs or less. Going 1-7 in those games is a major reason why the team has struggled so much this month. Even if you flip half of those losses to wins, the Pirates would be 4-3 in such games this month and 7-10 overall for the month.
7-10 still is not the kind of start to a month a team would be looking for. That said, if the Pittsburgh Pirates were 7-10 this month instead of 4-13 they would go from being second place in the NL Central to being in first place with a 2.0 game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers.
The question now becomes why? Why has the team struggled so much in close games this month after excelling in April?
One big reason has been the Pirate defense. While the Pirate defense had their struggles in April, it never really hurt the team. In May, the Pirate defense has regressed and has started to burn the team. Poor defense can be a back breaked in close games. One example is Rich Hill's muffed ground ball that led to a pair of unearned Rockie runs in a 4-3 Pirate loss against Colorado on May 10th.
Some head scratching decisions from manager Derek Shelton has been a factor as well. Just look at this past Saturday. Other than a 1st inning solo home run, the only hits allowed by Mitch Keller were a pair of infield hits in the 6th inning. Even though Keller was at just 84 pitches through 6 innings, Shelton pulled him. Not only did he pull Keller, he made the questionable move to hand the ball to Robert Stephenson. All of this culimnated in a 4-3 Pirate loss in a game they appeared to have in control.
Whatever the issue is for the Pirates in close games this month, they need to get it figured out. Again, if the team was 4-3 in games decided by 3 runs or less this month instead of 1-7 they would have a multi-game lead in the divison. Hell, even if they were 3-4 they would still be a game ahead of Milwaukee.
Shelton, his coaching staff, and the players need to solve this problem. Cleaning up the defense would be a big step toward doing that. So would better decisions on managing his pitching staff and bullpen decisions by Shelton. If things do not turnaround soon, the Pirate slide may not end any time soon.