5 Reasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates' Latest Slump
All season long, the Pittsburgh Pirates have played the type of stellar, winning baseball that has eluded the team for 19 long seasons.
Now it appears that the Pirates are back to their losing ways, and it is jeopardizing their chance to make a run at the postseason.
Having lost seven out of their last 10 games, the Bucs have stumbled their way through August going 8-13, culminating in a disappointing sweep at the hands of the lowly Padres that pushed them out of the lead for the second Wild Card spot.
Here is a look at five reasons for why the surprising Pirates are slumping as the season approaches its final month.
20 Games in 20 Days
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On August 3rd the Pirates traveled to Cincinnati to take on the first place Reds in the biggest series of the season.
That began a stretch of 20 games in 20 days for the Buccos that has not been kind to the team health-wise or in the win column.
Winning just seven games during this stretch, including just one in that Cincinnati series, the Pirates have their worst record in over a month and are a season-worst eight games out of first place.
This grueling stretch included the 19-inning marathon in St. Louis and has seen players like Neil Walker, Starling Marte and Travis Snider miss time with injuries.
Certainly the team was looking forward to the off-day on Thursday after seeing the effects this long stretch had on their performance.
Andrew McCutchen's Decline in Production
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After back-to-back National League Player of the Month awards in June and July, Andrew McCutchen is having easily his worst month of the season in August.
The NL MVP candidate has seen his league-leading batting average slip from the low .370's to just .349 and his August OPS of .719 is well below his .995 season OPS.
An equally concerning issue for the speedy McCutchen is the fact that he has been caught stealing in five of his last six stolen base attempts and he has just one successful steal since June 20th.
For the Pirates to break out of this slump and take back the Wild Card lead, Andrew McCutchen will need to return to the MVP form we saw in June and July.
Lackluster Starting Pitching
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Throughout the year, the Pirates' starting pitching has been a huge bright spot and it really carried the team through the first half of the season.
In August, however, the Pittsburgh starters have struggled and it has been a big reason for the team's difficulty to win ball games.
While flip-flopping back and forth between a five-man and six-man rotation, the starters have combined to go just 7-9 with a season-worst 5.03 ERA this month.
The Pirates don't have the offensive firepower to hang with the other two contenders in the NL Central, so the starting pitching will need to right the ship for the team to make a run in September.
Early Inning Deficits
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In a staggering 13 of the 20 games in this recent stretch, the Pirates fell behind the opposing team in either the first or second inning.
While this has resulted in the Pirates being tied for the Major League lead with 36 comeback victories, it has forced the team to be playing from behind for the majority of the game.
While a major reason for these deficits is the starting pitching struggles early in games, the lineup hasn't given the pitchers any lead with which to work—they have a hard time adjusting to opponents starters.
The Pirates are not going to win many more games this season if they continue to allow themselves to succumb to these early inning deficits.
Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington
Clint Hurdle has done an incredible job as manager of the Pirates since he arrived last season, but fans will agree that he has made some poor decisions that have directly led to losses in this recent slump.
The biggest example of this was in the Pirates 10-inning 7-5 loss to the San Diego Padres on August 21.
Despite having better options in the bullpen, Hurdle decided to go with Chad Qualls in the eighth inning with the team down just one run.
Qualls proceeded to give up an insurance run, which came in handy for San Diego when Garrett Jones blasted a two-run homer in the ninth inning.
Then with the game tied in the bottom of the 10th, Hurdle left All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan in the bullpen and brought on recently called-up Daniel McCutchen to face the heart of the Padres' lineup.
After McCutchen allowed a runner to get to second, he fell behind San Diego's best hitter Chase Headley. Instead of walking Headley to set up the double-play, Hurdle let McCutchen pitch to the third-baseman, who walloped a walk-off bomb over the right-field fence.
While Hurdle's poor decision making has cost the Bucs on the field, he hasn't been helped by some questionable roster moves by general manager Neal Huntington.
Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson are two young pitchers with electric stuff and little left to prove at Triple-A Indianapolis. In fact, Morris is being labeled as Pittsburgh's successor to Joel Hanrahan as closer.
Yet instead of calling up these two fresh young arms, Huntington has forced Hurdle to use mediocre journeymen like Qualls, McCutchen and Juan Cruz.
The Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans owe a lot to the great jobs Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington have done in their time here, but they are just as responsible for the team's recent slump as any player is.