The Pittsburgh Pirates have to be thinking that all they need to do is keep their heads above water until the All-Star break. The fear that another late-season collapse is impending can’t be weighing on their minds.
The Bucs, who fell 4-1 to the Reds last night in the first game of a four-game set, have been fighting through adversity all year. Pitchers have been dropping like flies, each individual bat has seen peaks and valleys and the bullpen has been heavily overworked.
With all these things going wrong, it’s amazing that the team is 12 games above .500, but they are.
Early in the season, the past was close behind. For two straight years, the team has collapsed in the worst way down the stretch of what appeared to be promising seasons, and now they have to prove that they can hold it together for six months. The prevailing thought within the organization is play tough early, get the starters back and hit our stride by late July.
Well, that didn’t really go as planned, but it somehow has turned out better. Somehow, some way, without getting consistent hitting and with a constantly changing starting rotation, the team is competing in the National League.
The following stretch could determine the team’s fate. A major losing streak now, while pitchers A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez watch from the sidelines, could take the spark out of a team that is glowing with confidence and hungry to prove everyone wrong.
The beauty of the current situation is that all the team has to do is keep on doing what they have been doing all year and everything will be OK.
Entering Tuesday, the Bucs have a total of 23 more games and four days off before the All-Star break. Only six of those games are against teams who are currently above .500 (Cincinnati and Oakland) and the rest are all against teams that are eight games under .500 or worse, excluding Philadelphia (34-37).
If the Bucs can play .500 ball until the All-Star break, they’ll be as poised as anyone heading into the dog days of late July and August to make a pennant run.
The team’s current rotation consists of breakout lefty Jeff Locke, veteran lefty Francisco Liriano, rookie phenom Gerrit Cole, rookie no-name Brandon Cumpton and the oft-injured and frequently disappointing Charlie Morton. Liriano, Locke and Cole project to be in the rotation for the rest of the season and the near future, while Morton and Cumpton are out to show that they belong in in the big leagues.
The offense, which scuffled last night against Reds pitcher Mike Leake, is still a giant mass of moving pieces. Anyone on the roster can start on any random day, as bench players like Gaby Sanchez, Alex Presley, Mike McKenry and Brandon Inge all get crucial starts and at-bats. The Pirates have an offense-by-committee approach, and the team is hoping that Pedro Alvarez can stay hot until the break and that guys like Russell Martin, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones can come up with some big hits in clutch situations.
The team has lost a total of four series since losing their first two in the first week of the season. Since losing consecutive series to the Brewers and Nationals in late April/early May, the team has gone a solid 23-14.
The team’s mentality has to be the same as it was the beginning of the year: Take every series seriously and look at them as self-contained entities. The team has been swept only one time since the first week of the season and if they can keep that number at one during this stretch, it’s a victory. If Cole, Locke and Liriano keep pitching the way they have of late, the team should have enough to persevere through the adversity.
Charlie Morton (0-1, 3.60 ERA) makes his second start of the season Tuesday night against Matt Latos (6-0, 3.08 ERA).
Last night, the Bucs started lefty Alex Presley in right and batted him second, while Jordy Mercer started at shortstop. Presley and Mercer both had hits yesterday, so don’t be surprised if Hurdle pencils them into the lineup again tonight.
Andrew McCutchen was hit last night right on the little “c” on the back of his jersey, but it wasn't the first time this year the two teams have taken shots at star players. Brandon Phillips was plunked earlier in the year and missed several games as a result. Look for the bean-ball to be a storyline again with these two rivals.