The Pirates are 7-13 in their last 20 games. Andrew McCutchen hit worse in those 20 games than Gaby Sanchez. The pitching staff is cracking at the seams, the bullpen is a smoking crater that the team refuses to acknowledge or fix, and the Pirates are out playoff position for the first time since June 27th, sitting a full game behind the Cardinals for the NL's final wild card spot.
This is a crossroads. If the Pirates are a good baseball team, they really can't play much worse than they've been playing and they keep doing this for much longer. Despite their struggles over the last three weeks, the Pirates don't really need to be an exceptionally good baseball team from here on out to take a wild card spot; they just need to stop being a bad one. With 38 games left, the Pirates play the Brewers (57-66, 17-21 since the break) nine times, the Cubs seven (47-76, 14-24), the Astros six (39-86, 6-33), and the Mets (57-68, 11-28) four. That's 27 games against teams that are medicore, bad, or downright awful. If the Pirates just go 15-12 in those games, that puts us at 82 wins without even considering the six games against the Reds, three against the Cardinals, and three against the Braves. If the Pirates win five of those 12 games, that's 87 wins, which will at the very least keep them in the thick of the race for the last wild card spot right down until the last week and it could even be enough to sneak into the wild card play-in game if the Dodgers and Cardinals don't start playing better baseball.
If we just look at the season from the viewpoint of the last three weeks, 20-18 seems like an incredibly tall task for this group of players. If we look at what the Pirates have accomplished over the course of 123 games, it seems much less improbable. That's the crossroads we're at: is this a good team in a slump, or a mediocre team that played way over its heads in June and July? Are the problems we've seen from James McDonald and AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez of late mechanical things that can be fixed down the stretch or are they fatigue issues that won't go away as the season goes on? Can Andrew McCutchen pull himself back together and get hot to finish the season, or is he out of gas again? Seriously, what the hell is going on with the bullpen?
None of these questions have immediate answers. The team's poor play of late has certainly sewed enough doubt in my mind that it's hard to see this group of players getting back to the pre-All Star break hot streak that they were on. Even with lots of Cubs and Astros dotting the landscape ahead, it's really tough to envision this team reeling off an 8-2 streak to put some of these fears to bed. They don't really need that, though, to stay afloat. They just need to stop being awful and move back towards something resembling average. At the very least, that'll be a good start.
There is absolutely no reason for optimism. They've already tanked. In another week every one of their rivals will bring up their top prospects making them different teams. This season is over. I thought a week ago that the Bucs would go 21-21 in the last 42 games finishing a respectable 87-75. It now looks more like 13-29, with 3 of those games already in the loss column. In short? the 20th loss season is a fact. The streak continues.
The starting pitching and the hitting seem to be minor injuries while the bullpen seems to be a sucking chest wound. In the last month it seems like the starting pitching bails out the hitting or the hitting bails out the starting pitching only to have the bullpen give it all away.
They were always teetering on the edge in the first half of the season where they'd put runners on second and third and then get out of the jam. I think they had no blown saves before the All Star break but there were many, many close calls. Now they seem to have toppled over and taken the team with them.
Man.. what a difference 3 weeks make. Asking the Pirates to right the ship so that they can go 15-12 against the Astros, Cubs, Mets and Brewers did not seem like a tall task in July. But for now, I think you're right. Look at the Cardinals and Dodgers schedules down the stretch. I think 87 wins gets you in the conversation on October 3rd.
I don't know where this team goes .... hopefully not down the drain with ANOTHER sub .500 season .... that would be horrific for the city and the fans... playing sub .500 teams from here out can be DANGEROUS... they have their AAA players looking to make a position and they love to play spoilers (counter with our own AAA players???)... Pedro needs to be moved up in the lineup... there's no reason to pitch to him with Barnes or Barajas behind him... and I agree the key is McCutchen.... I do not want to see Melky win the batting crown (if they would allow it)