I'm starting to get that sinking feeling again. I don't know if it's because of the fashion that the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Pirates in Philly this past weekend, but if the Bucs' recent four-game skid has shown us anything, it's that this team is still against a significant uphill battle the rest of the season.
At 54-53 and now 5.5 games behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, any hopes of contending for a division title are beginning to fade away.
Starting tonight against the Chicago Cubs, Pirates starting pitcher Kevin Correia must play the role of stopper and put an end to this losing streak. Correia, going for his 13th victory tonight, will look to pick up a starting rotation that has taken a step back since their outstanding collective performance before the All-Star break.
In 17 games post-break, Pirates starting pitching is 5-6 with a 4.05 ERA. Not terrible numbers, but for a team who has scored the least amount of runs in the division, every run counts. With an ERA of almost half a run higher than it was in the first half of the season (3.62 ERA), the pitching efforts need to be improved upon or the offense is going to have to pick up the slack.
Luckily, the Pirates have acquired the services of veteran first baseman Derrek Lee and corner outfielder Ryan Ludwick - two needs that the Pirates absolutely had to address at the trade deadline. Not as flashy as a Carlos Beltran or Hunter Pence, but I think Neal Huntington did a very nice job with these pickups. He addressed the team's needs and got it at a relatively cheap price.
All of that being said, it might be do or die time for the Pirates. With two games remaining against the Cubs and three against the San Diego Padres in the homestand this weekend, I think it's going to take the team winning two out of three in both series to still be relevant in the division race.
Depending on where the Buccos sit in the standings early next week, rooting for the team to finish at .500 might once again become a more realistic goal.