The Pittsburgh Pirates experienced another tough loss today to the St. Louis Cardinals by the score of 5-4. It was a game that the Pirates could have certainly pulled out, but failed to produce when the time came. Now the August wear has certainly be visible, especially in the game today, but should have been expected, as most teams go through this period. The expectations have been set high by fans and critics alike, some who want to see this team succeed, while others would like nothing more than to be proven right and see another epic collapse.
The obvious is well, pretty obvious. As of today, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 12 games above .500 at 66-54. Currently, the Pirates still have the Wild Card in hand, and even if they happen to slip, will still be in the thick of a playoff race. No where in sight is the team of last year, so do not expect to see another losing season of baseball. Some have said this team simply is not good enough to make the playoffs but in my opinion this team is talented enough to make the playoffs, although they will have to do it the hard way. First and foremost would be to produce runs when runners are in scoring position. Almost 1A would be to quit leaving men on base, as they left 10 on in the loss today to St. Louis. These are unacceptable statistics, especially by a team who wants to be playing into late October and hopefully November. This brings me to the oblivious. No where does it say Andrew McCutchen has to hit a home run every game, and personally too many people are reading into his power outage. It is more important to look at his AVG w/ RISP and his OBP%. Yes, today was a rare occurrence where he did not step up, and being an MVP candidate, he should produce, but he simply cannot do it alone, this is the Major Leagues folks, you need to have more than one producer. The stat that really needs to be looked at is the K% of the Pittsburgh Pirates which is currently 22.2%, tied for highest in all of baseball alongside the Oakland Athletics. The strikeout is the most unproductive out that can happen in baseball, and with the Pirates lack of producing at critical times, a singular strikeout could be the difference between a win and a loss. Another important overlooked stat is the BB%, which the Pirates are currently at a 6.8%, which makes them tied 2nd to last. The Pirates inability to take pitches and work their way on base is extremely crucial to their success of scoring runs. A big example happened in tonight’s loss. Garrett Jones had the green light on a 3-0 count, and swung at a clear ball four that would have loaded the bases with only one out. Plain and simple, the team’s plate discipline needs to improve.
Another obvious assessment is the pitching staff needs to step up. James McDonald finally produced a solid outing on Friday night, and hopefully he continues that trend. But the Pirates starters need to string together 3 to 4 solid outings in a row, and not only that, have the bullpen hold the leads that the team manages to put together. This means that Erik Bedard needs to pitch beyond his normal 5 innings, unlike he did today. (To his credit, he had been pitching well before today’s start.) The bullpen is where they have been faltering lately. Even in not so close games, the bullpen managed to give up runs to make a 5-2 deficit turn into an 11-2 loss. The margin for error is slim now, and the Pirates need to adjust and play better, and more productive baseball if they want to see themselves fighting for a World Series birth come fall. Unlike the K% on offense, the K% on defense is critical to a pitching staff. The K% of the staff in the past 14 days is at 18.4%, down from the 19.4% for the entire year. Even this slight drop in percentage is drastic, as the strikeout hinders the offenses ability to score runs. The biggest blunder though has been the inability to finish an inning. For the year the Pirates staff has left 73.3% of runners on base, good enough to finish in the top 12 in all of the Majors. However, in the past 14 days, the staff has only managed to leave a measly 58.1% of runners on base, good enough for dead last. Another simply put, this needs to improve.
The obvious is that the Pirates will still be in the playoff race, and I believe their hunger will push them out of the rut they have been in lately. Hopefully, they improve and start by taking the series from the Cardinals tomorrow afternoon. As always, let’s go Bucs and have fun on that road to October!