Part of the Pittsburgh Pirates' lineup is formidable.
This includes Nyjer Morgan, who hits for average and steals a ton of bases. Freddy Sanchez is beginning to look like the man who won a batting title in 2006. "Nasty" Nate McLouth is just that to opposing pitchers. And the Pirates are in good hands when one of the catchers with the initials RD, Ryan Doumit or Robinzon Diaz, is batting.
Unfortunately, the rest of the Pirates' lineup isn't contributing as much as the team would like.
Adam LaRoche, a relative veteran, figures to be an average hitter for the whole season, after having avoided his April slump. And the bottom of the lineup is populated by three replacement players: Adam's brother Andy, Brendan Moss, and Brian Bixler.
The first two were acquired in last year's ill-conceived trade of Jason Bay (and the unceremonial dumping of Jose Bautista, who is prospering in Toronto), and the last fills in for injured Jack Wilson. The pitcher is usually no great shakes as a hitter, but all National League teams suffer from this.
With essentially "half" of a lineup, the Pirates can score only an average of three runs a game, instead of four or five. That's not enough to win most games, unless the pitching is exceptionally good.
There are fifteen games in which the Pirates have scored four or more runs, most of them early in the season. Not surprisingly, they are 10-5 in those games.
There are 10 games in which the Pirates have scored twice or less, and they have not won a single one of those games.
No 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1 victories, although there are several such defeats. They are 2-4 in games where they scored exactly three runs.
Not surprisingly, the Pirates' season run production is now below league average, while runs allowed are at the average. On the sabermetric Pythagorian formula, the Pirates ought to be about 14-17 after 31 games (going into Tuesday night).
But they "wasted" a lot of runs in two 10-0 and 10-1 victories. Seventeen of those runs were unnecessary. On this basis, 113 runs were as good as 130, and plugging 113 into the formula gives a win percentage closer to the Pirates' 12-19.
Starting pitching isn't the problem, even though the ERA has run up to a middling 4.31. Instead, the Pirates have received 18 quality starts in 31 games (No. 2 in the National League), six more than than their wins.
Basically, the starters pitch well enough to win lots of games. However, the league average runs allowed is due to a number of "runaways" and blown saves in a handful of games.
But even a "quality start," (three or fewer runs given up by a starter who has lasted at least six innings) is often too high a hurdle for half a lineup of hitters to overcome.
No, the Pirates' problem is what it has always been for the better part of 17 seasons. Until they can field a full offensive lineup, they will continue to have losing seasons.