For much of this summer, I've tried to choose my language carefully when the Pirates lose a few games in a row or X games out of X. Specifically, I've tried to avoid the phrase, "the Pirates have to win," because the baseball season is long and the Pirates' various spells of brilliant play have protected them from having to win any singular game. The benefit of winning nine in a row or having a 9-2 homestand or taking three out of four in almost every four-game series that you play is that you can absorb a certain number of stretches of 1-5 or 2-7 baseball.
This last stretch has expended most of that cushion. On one level, it matters that three of the Pirates seven losses in this last nine-game span have come in extra innings, because that's an indication that they're not playing as badly as their recent record indicates. On another level, it doesn't matter at all; they're losing baseball games and they've come to a point at which they need to stop losing baseball games. It doesn't really matter that if they'd gone 5-4 (with one of those wins being The Marte Game) in this stretch that they'd have a five game lead on the Cardinals and a 5 1/2 game lead on the Reds and that they'd be on virtual West Coast victory lap towards winning their 82nd game and burying the Cardinals for good at PNC Park over Labor Day weekend. It doesn't matter that they've left the undead body of the Diamondbacks season still gasping for life until someone else finishes them off in the next couple of weeks.
I've been saying for a while now that once a team gets into a pennant race, the only thing that truly matters is the next game. Ten days ago, the Pirates were coming off of an incredible high after a 9-2 homestand that left them with a four-game lead in the NL Central. That incredible high had no bearing on the next nine games, because the Pirates have only won two of them. Now, that 9-2 homestand matters exactly as much as the 2-7 stretch that's followed it and these last 20 games don't matter any more than the 103 other games that the Pirates have played this year. Remember this? It's still as true today as it was 2 1/2 years ago.
The catch is this: life is much easier when you're in first place. The Pirates were in first place on August 8th. They've lost seven of their last nine games, while the Cardinals have won five of nine and the Reds have won seven of ten since then. The Pirates are still in first place. It's true that the schedule would technically allow for the Pirates to have a bad week on the West Coast and fall out of first place, because they have six games left against both the Cardinals and the Reds. I think that this team is much better suited to play from ahead if they're going to win the division, and winning the division is the only outcome to this season that won't leave me at least a little bit disappointed.
Turning things around is much easier than it looks from the low point that the Pirates are at today. Francisco Liriano starts tonight. AJ Burnett starts tomorrow. Gerrit Cole will probably start on Wednesday (I say probably because I think there's a chance that someone else could start Wednesday to give Cole and Locke both an extra day of rest, though that plan may have been torpedoed by Kris Johnson's excessively long relief outing yesterday). They are better than Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy, respectively. I think that the Pirates probably need to win two of these three games. It's as good a place to start a turn-around as any,
Cockeyed Homer Optimistic outlook:
Early in the season most thought the Pirates were excellent Wild Card contenders but the Reds or Cards would win the division.Its Aug 19 they are still looking up at us.
The Pirates hit the half way mark of the season by exorcising some demons and sweeping the Brewers only to go on a 2-6 skid against the faltering Phillies and lowly Cubs. This did not lead to panic or a collapse.
Just a year ago a seemingly benign bullpen trade played a big part in a late season collapse.This year we lost our All Star closer and were able to adapt and overcome.
This team is made up for the long haul of the season and will still finish with 90+ wins.
@LastingsMilledgeville I agree with you completely, though I understand the sentiment of folks who, having lived through two collapses, feel another collapse is inevitable--although those pointy-headed folks who are making dire predictions that the Bucs turn into the anti-Dodgers and fall below .500 again are a whole different species, one that needs to be eradicated.
I don't believe that WILL happen; all I say is, if it happens, I won't be plussed. If they got to 80-60 and then lost 22 in a row, I would get up and turn on the Steelers like nothing happened.
To those that say the team is mentally strong right now, I say that they are pressing at the plate, swinging at balls in the dirt and balls a foot outside, suckers for changing speeds. This team is tight, this team knows about the history. Does that mean that they'll succumb? Nope. But they'd better relax and start swing an easy bat, and that's better said than done.
Every win is the start of a streak. Every streak breeds confidence. Winning games solves everything.
@nickjuneau24 I'm not sure what your term of "collapse" means to you but not making the playoffs is a collapse to me. Even the 2nd wild card slot is in play now given how poorly the Bucs have played the past 10 days. A turn-around is certainly a possibility but if we are looking up at StL and Cincy near the end of September and worrying about D'Backs in the west then we have one foot into the collapse grave.
@nickjuneau24 The club's offense isn't great--they're better-than average at four spots, and at least OK at three others when Mercer is at short--but they ain't a juggernaut, and their struggles have been exacerbated by Hurdle's maddening return to small-ball.
This team's problem is lack of offense - which of course we all know. We lost three extra inning games over about the last week and during 15 innings of baseball we could not manage one run. And all the while, our pitchers could prevent runs. I think extra inning games are interesting b/c it usually only takes one run at any given time to win. But, over 15 innings, almost two full games worth of baseball, where the only thing we needed was a run, we couldn't do it.
I don't think we will collapse, but this does not bode well. We are a baseball team that cannot get a run when we need it. It is like a football team that seemingly cannot get a first down when it is necessary. That team can win a bunch of games, but it does not bode well for the playoffs.
@TomBrenholts @wkkortas @LastingsMilledgeville Some of the at bats by Buccos lately are increasingly frustrating. I don't understand the approach of swinging at chasers in the dirt or a foot away and then watching a dead-on strike right down the middle with not even a bat waggle....? Can anyone explain this to me?