It appeared when the trading deadline approached, Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington was doing the right thing by acquiring Derrick Lee and Ryan Ludwick to help out the Bucs' slumping offense. With the Pirates in contention in the National League Central at the time, and the Pirates pitching performing at a high level throughout the entire season, focusing on the offense was the proper thing to do.
Little did Huntington and the rest of the baseball world know, that it wouldn’t be the offense that would cost the Bucs a shot at the postseason for the first time since 1992, but instead the pitching would falter to the point that the Pirates would unfathomably fall below the .500 mark for the first time since early June.
There will be no playoffs for the Battlin’ Bucs, and breaking the streak of 18 consecutive under .500 seasons is somehow now in jeopardy as well.
When we look back at what could possibly be the worst 10-game stretch in recent memory, all of the blame can’t be put on the Pirates offense. Sure they’ve failed to get the big hit often, but they’re the least of the Bucs' worries at the moment.
In fact, most of the blame has to be directed right at the pitching staff—the same staff that was the sole reason the Bucs contended through the end of July.
Can the Bucs staff rebound to help the Pirates finish over .500?
Some of the pitching staff’s issues could be due to tired arms, as I pointed out in my last article. However, looking at this stretch, the problem is apparent: the long ball.
It’s been bombs away the last week at PNC Park, as balls are flying over the fence at a record pace, including six in one game against the Chicago Cubs Tuesday night, in which starter Kevin Correia seemed to merely be throwing batting practice.
Home runs and extra base hits have been a huge problem for the Bucs' entire staff the past nine days, and it just hasn’t been the starters that have been the problem.
Pirates hitters have combined to hit 16 doubles and nine homers during the nine-game skid. In contrast, opposing hitters have tuned up Pirates pitchers, combining for 22 doubles, five triples and an alarming 21 dingers.
Looking even closer during the losing streak, the Bucs have scored 34 runs on 79 hits, averaging 3.8 runs and 8.8 hits per game. With the way the Bucs had pitched into July, they should have been able to win at least half of the nine games based on those splits. Not, however, when the pitching staff has performed the way it has. During the same stretch, opposing hitters have crushed whatever arm the Bucs have thrown out there, except for a gem thrown against the Cubs by Charlie Morton.
The opposition has scored a combined 66 runs on 106 hits, averaging out to 7.3 runs and 11.8 hits per contest. That’s alarming and simply can’t continue for the Bucs to have any shot at finishing the year strong.
Things in baseball find a way of averaging out through the course of a long season. Early on, the fly ball to home run ratio for the Pirates pitchers was a very low number, something that was due to rise at some point given the arms on the Bucs staff. If that’s the case, it picked an awful time to start showing up.
So while it’s easy to blame the Pirates offense for the team's struggles, the Pirates pitching staff needs its share of fingers pointed their way as well.