The Pirates played like crap again last night. They got shut-out by Jason Marquis. They didn't get a hit until the seventh inning. AJ Burnett didn't have his best stuff and he gave up some home runs and got hit pretty hard. They lost 5-0, which was their second straight loss to the Padres and their third straight loss in a row.
People are FREAKING OUT about this as a result, if the online reaction to last night's game is any indication of what the general fan base thinks. This really wears me out. The Pirates haven't been playing very well lately; this is true. The bats have cooled off and Andrew McCutchen looks like something other than a superhuman and he's not getting as much help as he did before the All-Star break. The pitching staff looks significantly worse without James McDonald slicing through opposing lineups every time out on the mound. The bullpen has hiccupped. The defense has had some occasional lapses. They play ugly games; they lost two in a row to the Cubs almost three weeks ago, they lost two in a row to the Cubs and Astros a week and a half ago, and now they've dropped three straight to the Diamondbacks and Padres.
It's hard to watch and it's frustrating and sure, it's worrisome because the Pirates fell apart so spectacularly last year. There's no denying that. Baseball isn't made up of three game samples, though, and it's not made up of two or three week splits and it's not even made up of half seasons; baseball is a 162-game seasons. It's a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Once upon a time, the top of this site was adorned with an Andy Van Slyke quote:
Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.
This Pirate team is not in the Grand Canyon. Not by a long shot. If you draw the curtain back to just about any recent arbitrary endpoint beyond the last week, they're hanging pretty tough. Since the All-Star break, they're 15-13. Since their sweep of the Marlins, they're 9-10. Even if you just go back to the start of the Cincy series, they're 3-6 with a pretty good chance to win this afternoon. I'm not arguing that 4-6 is great, just that it's not 0-10. It's not 10 in a row or 12 of 13 or 3-15. Through all of these ugly losses, the Pirates still have a game and a half on the Cardinals and they're still within striking distance of the Reds.
Here's the question that we should all be asking ourselves this morning: Is there any reason to think that the Pirates of the last three weeks are more "the real Pirates" than the Pirates of June? That reason has to extend beyond "because they're the Pirates." That doesn't fly. Do we have reason to think that we're only going to see Bad James McDonald from here on out? That the only Andrew McCutchen we're going to see between now and October is Leadoff Hitter McCutchen and not NL MVBEAST McCutchen? Will Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones not get hot again? Will Travis Snider and Starling Marte not offer a real upgrade over Jose Tabata and Alex Presley once they get settled in and see significant playing time?
All of these things are possible, of course. I just don't think they're any more possible or impossible than the alternative. The Pirates are playing poorly. They have to play better if they want to make the playoffs and there's no denying this. But we know they're capable of playing better. We've seen it and it wasn't that long ago. There's lots of baseball left.
Earl Weaver once famously said, "Momentum is the next day's pitcher." The Pirates have lost three games in a row, including two really ugly losses to the Padres. Today, Ross Ohlendorf pitches against Erik Bedard. Ross Ohlendorf is still Ross Ohlendorf. Erik Bedard has looked much improved since the All-Star break and it seems like he's made some adjustments to ensure that he stays on that path. Who knows? Every move out of a valley starts with one game.
The first pitch today is at 1:35.
Avoid the Grand Canyon! Here's a visual... http://seasonticketsbaby.blogspot.com/2012/08/2012-season-graph-updated.html
Also, remember we haven't watched winning baseball for 20 years or so. We're used to the Steelers winning four for every one they lose, we're used to going a month between losses. It's unrealistic for a baseball team to do that, sure, but we have to get used to what winning baseball looks like; winning baseball is 60-40, or thereabouts.
The Pirates had the best home record in baseball before this homestand!
Then stupid PNC Bank put that dumb sign behind the plate.
The sign is the JINX. It is in every camera shot and is stupid to look at. Greedy corporations want to cash in and jinx the buccos.
Of course, I cannot prove this, but I say remove the sign and see what happens.
My point would be that they hit the All Star break looking good, and heading into the part of the schedule against weaker teams where a GOOD team should really make some hay, and they didn't do that. They're playing even against a mix of good and bad teams, which means to me that they're not really all that good. And I'm OK with that. I think that it's more likely that we're going to see the team of the last 30 games or so than the team of June, or the team of April.
On the other hand, my crystal ball has been wonky lately. The crystal ball shop tells me there's nothing wrong with it, but I've had my doubts. I can't use it for betting horse races any more, so I'm not sure it would be good for baseball games now.
Look ahead at the schedule. Even if the Pirates win today, then they get the Dodgers for 4 games. Who made better trades at the trade deadline?
Then they go to St. Louis (my pick to win the division) where they may well get swept. The Pirates, even with a win today, could easily lose 3 of 4 to the Dodgers and get swept in St. Louis.
Or things could improve. We will have to wait and see, but ever since the Pirates barely beat the Astros in Houston and left so many men on base on either third or second I have feared this coming.
Opposing teams have figured out that you don't let 22 beat you. Pitch to Barmes or Barajas or whatever 200 BA guy they have in the lineup, but don't give 22 what he likes to hit.