There are two realities that exist on the morning on 16 August 2012 in Pittsburgh Pirate Land. One is that the Pirates are 64-53 and tied for a wild card spot with 45 games left. Of their 45 remaining games, 16 are against contenders (one left against the Dodgers, six against the Cardinals, six against the Reds, three against the Braves). That's hard reality; the Pirates are in contention and play 29 of their last 45 games against teams of varying levels of badness. They need 18 wins in those 45 games (18-27) to finish above .500. They need 26 wins (26-19) to get to 90 wins and a reasonable expectation of a playoff berth. Based on their season as a whole to this point and their remaining schedule, one of those things seems like a slam dunk and the other seems possible at the very least.
The other reality is that the Pirates have lost six of their last seven games, that a neck-and-neck race with the Reds for the NL Central has turned into a runaway lead for the Reds and the Pirates desperately clinging to the final wild card spot. This is one year after the Pirates turned 53-47 record and a tie for first place into five games under and ten games back in thirteen games. This is the year 20 AB in Pittsburgh; there is no reason to expect good things for the Pirates because good things never happen to the Pirates.
I'm not a proponent of waiting for the other shoe. Not in baseball. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker and AJ Burnett have as much to do with Kevin Young and Jason Kendall and Steve Cooke as Young and Kendall and Cooke have to do with Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek. I like to be superstitious, I like to remember and celebrate history, but I don't believe in curses or ghosts. There are only good teams and bad teams, smart front offices and dumb front offices, good luck and bad luck. The Pirates didn't fall apart last year because they're the Pittsburgh Pirates and because that's what the Universe wants to happen to the Pittsburgh Pirates; they fell apart because they weren't a very good baseball team and because 162 games separates good teams from bad teams better than 100 games do.
For the last six weeks, every time the Pirates lose a game or two in a row or three of five, someone asks me if "The Collapse" is starting, and I always say that expecting a collapse like last year's is irrational and dumb because last year's collapse was a historic, once-a-generation kind of thing. No baseball team in history has been in first place after 100 games and then lost more than 47 of their last 62 (well, I'm extrapolating from this, but I feel pretty good about that statement). Sitting around waiting for another collapse like that is an exercise in self-torture.
But how can you not think about it after the stretch of games the Pirates have just played? When Neil Walker is writhing on the ground in pain two batters into an important game? How can you not guard yourself against another collapse? How can you tell yourself that despite a lifetime of experiences to the contrary, that it'd be really hard for this particular Pirate team to go 17-28 or 16-29 in their last 45 games? I don't have an answer to any of thise.
The Pirates aren't as bad as they've been the last ten days or so, and I don't think that they'll stay in this funk for that much longer. It's just not likely to happen; there's a different talent level on this Pirate team than there was even to last year's team. Baseball cycles up and down; the Pirates were up late June and early July and they're down now. With any luck, they'll be up again before the season ends. Probably not enough to catch the Reds, maybe not enough to hold off the Cardinals, but enough to win 85 or so games. That's what logic and reality tells us is the most likely outcome here, no matter how ugly the last ten days have been.
Have I convinced you? I'm not sure I've convinced myself.
The fact is the Pirates aren't that good of a ballclub on many levels, and yet they are 11 games over .500 - it's actually kind of amazing! For instance, their catchers can't throw out base stealers any better than you'll see on the sandlots. The % of successful steal attempts was over 90% the last time I noticed. That's laughingly bad folks. Their hitters strike out way too much and some of the base running by Pirate regulars is atrocious. I don't have a clue where Garrett Jones finds the load of bricks he carries around on his back once he leaves the batters box but it's not pretty, especially after the blindfold goes over his eyes when he reaches first. The bench players that Hurdle has had at his disposal do not throw any kind of fear into the opposing dugout. Finally, the trades made in late July have thus far proven to be if anything slightly hurtful to the team's chances (and chemistry) to compete with the better teams. Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee - what? Poor Casey didn't want to leave his Pirate buddies for NYY which says a lot for what he meant to the clubhouse I believe. And, trading Jeff Lincoln was clearly a mistake given how our bullpen has turned to mush since. Travis Snider may prove to be valuable to the Bucs down the road but he's just another AAA/AAAA corner outfielder in my eyes. Wandy R has been a disappointment - I'd rather see an arm called up from Indy to see what we've got for 2013 and beyond. I could go on but that's enough - except to mention some of Hurdle's strange managerial twists and turns. As of late perhaps he's realized that giving up an out for a sac bunt isn't always the way to play the game in 2012. Yet, here we are in 2nd place in NL Central and a reasonable shot a wild card slot. Baseball's a funny game.
I don't understand how anyone can say they will "take" or "not take" where the Pirates are today. The only thing that matters is a World Series Championship.
You can say they have made or not made improvements, but must want more than improvement. And improvement by what measuring standard. Better through 119 games then they were last year? They do not give out anything for how you are doing through 119 games.
As you said above, 162 games separates the good teams from the bad teams. How you play through 119 games can be a matter of lots of things (e.g. scheduling, injuries to your opponents, etc.).
The Pirates, it appears, just do not have enough talent to compete over 162 games. And don't forget they have done this well without any injuries and every team suffers injuries.
Unlike you, I fear that finishing above 500 may not occur. The Pirates need 18 more wins to get to 82. The way they are playing now it is going to be very close.
P.S. I do believe in curses and think this whole thing is the result of that stupid PNC Park sign the greedy corporate bank placed behind homeplate.
You know, there's a lot of shared joy and mutual heartbreak that goes on with being a baseball fan, be it something you share with fathers or sons or something larger and more amorphous than a group of people who haunt a website. Championships are great, but it's been 33 years since the last one, and it could easily be another 33 before we see the next one. Has there ever been a better season than the Freak Show? I remember listening to KDKA and bolting out of my chair when Lanny Frattare said the Pirates had received permission to print playoff tickets. Did it come to anything? No, just like this season will very likely result in nothing more than fond memories--but, let me tell you, I lived far too many years without the feeling I had that night, and I cannot put a price tag on what it's like to have that back. I will "take" that no matter what the standings say after 162 games.
I too don't believe in curses or ghosts. However, in years gone by you could say that they fell apart because they’re the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s because in years gone by it was the same tightwad, idiotic front office and owner doing the same tightwad, idiotic things.
Under the new regime they have made substantial changes, added talent, and gotten rid of knuckleheads. They have made the Pirates relevant again and worth watching past Memorial Day. Based on their track record to date, if they implode this year I will be with you saying its not just because it the Pirates; its because they have more work to do.
Again, if you told me on April 1st that the Pirates would be in this exact situation on this exact date, I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat.
@wkkortas I would have, too. But then, that's kind of like saying you should keep rolling the dice on DEAL OR NO DEAL because, hey, "I came here with nothing."
Saying "this exact situation" means this record, this schedule, and a six of seven skid where everything is going wrong. I would not have taken that. Knowing only that I would have said, “Been there, done that, don't care to relive it.” I don’t know if they will right the ship or not, but, per my other post, I still see a silver lining either way.