5 Pittsburgh Pirates Most to Blame for the Late-Season Collapse

Kyle Stanzel@@DmndPrspctsCorrespondent IIISeptember 25, 2012

5 Pittsburgh Pirates Most to Blame for the Late-Season Collapse

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    As the once magical 2012 baseball season winds down in frustrating fashion for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it's time to look back and see what went wrong for the Buccos.

    On Aug. 8 the Pirates defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6, putting themselves 16 games over .500 with a 3.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the final NL Wild Card spot.

    Since that day the Pirates have been a Major League-worst 12-31, falling to three games under .500 and a virtually insurmountable 6.5 games back of the Wild Card.

    While the Pirates win and lose baseball games as a team, there are some players and individuals who should be held a little more accountable for the team's failures than others.

    Here is a look at five Pittsburgh Pirates who are most to blame for the team's historic late-season collapse.

James McDonald

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    In the first half of the season, James McDonald was arguably the Pirates best starting pitcher and was an All-Star Game snub with a 9-3 record and an impressive 2.37 ERA.

    Things could not have gone any differently for McDonald during the second half of 2012, and it cost him his spot in the starting rotation in September.

    McDonald has struggled in nearly every start since July, going 3-5 with a 7.52 ERA.

    The most concerning part for J-Mac was his inability to find the strike zone and his struggles getting out of the first inning unscathed.

    After walking just 31 batters in 110 first-half innings, McDonald allowed 38 batters to walk freely in just 61 second-half innings.

    To compound the problem McDonald was at his worst in the first inning, often forcing the Pirates to play from behind with personal-worst 6.83 ERA in the first, with a ridiculous nine home runs allowed.

    The starting pitching has been perhaps the most disappointing part of this late-season collapse, and James McDonald is at the head of those struggles. 

Erik Bedard

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    Erik Bedard was signed during the offseason to provide some good veteran leadership to the young Pirates starters and provide the team with solid left-handed pitching.

    While the veteran presence he brought to the clubhouse was unmistakable, Bedard just wasn't getting the job done on the mound and it resulted in the Pirates releasing him on Aug. 28.

    When the Pirates needed Bedard to step up most, he failed to put batters away and constantly left the ball up over the plate, resulting in three straight months of an ERA around 6.00.

    What seemed like a shrewd signing by Neal Huntington in the offseason, turned into a wasted roster spot by the time the Pirates were well into their late-season collapse.

Neil Walker

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    Neil Walker's play on the field is certainly not the reason he is on the list.

    Rather it is Walker's injuries that played a big role in the Pirates rapid fall from playoff contention.

    Just days after going 5-for-5 with a home run in a Pirates win, Walker went down with a dislocated finger that sidelined him for several days.

    He returned for a few games before he hurt his lower back in a game on Aug. 26 and Walker didn't get back in the starting lineup until Sept. 15.

    Even once he returned, Walker hasn't been the same player he was before the injury, and his absence has really hurt the Pirates offense as a whole.

    In a tight playoff race a team can't afford to have its best players fall victim to injuries, which is exactly what happened with the Pirates and second baseman Neil Walker.

Rod Barajas

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    Rod Barajas has been drawing the criticism of Pirates' fans all season, but his play was tolerated because of the way he handles the pitching staff and because the team was winning.

    Now that the Pirates are in a full-fledged landslide, it's a mystery as to why the inept Barajas continues to see regular playing time.

    The 37-year old has been an automatic out at the bottom of the lineup, batting for a .203/.282/.334 line with more strikeouts than hits.

    On top of his struggles at the plate Barajas has been one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball, throwing out just six of the 94 base stealers he has come up against.

    Backup Michael McKenry isn't a much better option behind the plate, but right now anything is better than what Barajas is bringing to the table. 

Clint Hurdle

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    Clint Hurdle has been as good a manager as Pirates' fans could ask for in his two seasons in Pittsburgh, but if you had to pinpoint the Pirates collapse on one person it would have to be the skipper.

    Hurdle has consistently made poor decision after poor decision and he has single handedly cost the Pirates wins.

    Despite having younger, fresher arms like Bryan Morris, Hurdle has repeatedly thrown underwhelming veterans Chad Qualls and Jason Grilli to the wolves in tough situations.

    His managing of the offense and the basepaths have also left a lot to be desired, to the point where there are some people who are calling for him to be fired.

    There is no denying Hurdle has been a phenomenal influence for the Pirates, but his consistently poor managerial decisions have been the biggest reason for the team's late-season collapse.