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Yeah, I'm going out on a bit of a limb with this one. Clint Hurdle is more widely viewed as a Manager of the Year candidate than a candidate to get sacked. But don't think it can't happen. He only has one year left on his contract and he may have already maxed out his usefulness in Pittsburgh.
As far as motivators go, there aren't many managers out there better than Hurdle. He powered the Colorado Rockies' run to the World Series in 2007, and he's done a heck of a job making something out of the Pirates in the last two seasons.
But as far as strategy goes, Hurdle's no Joe Maddon. He's made that much clear enough over the years, and goodness knows there's no shortage of examples to point to.
One of the most recent of the bunch would be Pittsburgh's recent extra-inning loss to the San Diego Padres in which Hurdle left A.J. Burnett in long enough to give up 17 (17!) baserunners and then badly mismanaged his bullpen. This prompted ESPN's Keith Law, ever the pessimist, to come through with a reasonable question:
Indeed. I'd also say it's fair to ask just how horrid the Pirates would be if they didn't have Andrew McCutchen. They collapsed in 2011 when McCutchen stopped hitting, and they're stumbling again this second half with McCutchen once again showing signs of humanity.
Even still, his struggles are no excuse for the Pirates to be stumbling the way they are. They're by no means the most talented team in the league, but neither are the Baltimore Orioles, and they're still going strong. Baltimore is winning with timely hitting, good enough starting pitching and an excellent bullpen, a formula that the Pirates should be able to match.
They're not. The Pirates have played pretty bad baseball over the last three weeks, and their focus doesn't seem to be getting any sharper. That's on Hurdle.
I have no doubt that Hurdle will keep his job if the Pirates grab a wild-card spot this season, but the odds of that happening are slipping away. The Cardinals, Dodgers and Braves all have more talent on paper, and the three of them have been playing better baseball than the Pirates of late.
Keeping Hurdle wouldn't be a crime if the Pirates knew they were another year or two away from contention, but they're not. They're ready to contend right now with the pieces they already have, and more young and talented pieces are on the way.
The Pirates need a manager who can make the most of these pieces, and Hurdle's not that guy. He gets everyone ready to play, but his own limitations as a manager threaten to hold the club back.
If Hurdle does lose his job, I suspect he'll catch on as a hitting coach somewhere, just like he did after he was fired by the Rockies. He'll manage again someday, but not immediately.