The Pittsburgh Pirates have started 2013 in a very similar manner to 2012, struggling to get anything going at the plate. Despite four solid pitching performances in a row, the Bucs are 1-3 heading into Saturday night's tilt with Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
The Pirates have scored six runs in four games, with three of those runs coming against struggling Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol.
While it is way too early to react strongly to specific results, the Bucs' overall approach at the plate does not suggest that a significant improvement is around the corner.
It is one thing to go on a cold streak because batted balls simply aren't finding holes, as can often happen in the sport. It's another to pile up heavy strikeout numbers while drawing few walks and swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, as the Pirates are currently doing.
The biggest culprits at this early stage are Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones and Starling Marte, three players who are critical complementary components of the Pirates offense. Marte took a very good walk in his first plate appearance before reverting to his historical on-base struggles, while Alvarez and Jones have just looked out of sync.
Alvarez, whose contact issues have always been one of his biggest flaws, has already struck out twice in situations with a man on third base and less than two outs, including a three-pitch strikeout at the hands of Marmol Thursday night.
Jones also has the distinction of striking out against Marmol, as he was the only Pirate the Cubs closer successfully retired on Opening Day.
Each player has fallen victim to sliders that were not particularly sharp, starting at the knees at best and breaking into the dirt well before crossing home plate. At this point, there is no reason to throw either player—or most Pirates for that matter—a fastball in the strike zone.
For his part, Clint Hurdle thinks the Pirates' offensive approach is improving (per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review):
While this may be true on the margin, one of the very things that has been discouraging about the Pirates' early-season offensive performance is their propensity to swing at bad pitches even when the count is full.
#Pirates Hurdle: "We swung bats better tonite, hit some balls hard at people. We had 10 3-ball counts, but only 1 walk."— Rob Biertempfel (@BiertempfelTrib) April 6, 2013
The Bucs' recent offensive flaw has always been getting on base, as the team has plenty of power and speed. It is way too early in the season to be sure that a given trend will continue, but Pirate fans were certainly hoping for a very different start.