By Mike Wysocki
Pittsburgh Current Baseball Writer
Just three weeks ago we were heading into Memorial Day weekend and our beloved Bucs were 25-22 and in contention for their first-ever National League Central Division title.
Despite injuries to their opening day left fielder, third baseman, shortstop, catcher, best two starting pitchers, and set-up man, the Jolly Roger was being hoisted more times than not. Sure, 80% of its starting rotation is injured now or has been injured in the recent past, but the Battling Bucs were doing what they do. Since, what was hopefully not the high watermark of the year, that same team has gone 5-14, it’s the other teams doing the battling; we’re doing the drowning. On Tuesday the Pirates extended a five-game losing streak in which they have allowed 40 runs; 14 of those runners who touched home plate homered.
There’s an old adage in baseball that the solo home run doesn’t kill you. Completely true, if a pitcher is cruising along and a good hitter guesses right on a pitch; big deal as long as nobody is on base. However four solo home runs in one inning can kill you. Chris Archer pulled that off this week. Out of 13 pitchers on the active roster, nine of them have ERA’s of five or higher. That’s after demoting Alex McRae (8.76) and Rookie, Rookie Davis(6.75) and releasing Nick Kingham(9.87). The Pirates should file a complaint with Major League Baseball because the rest of the league is bullying them.
The bullpen has been like a minimum wage job, a revolving door of incompetence with employees who would rather be elsewhere. An optimistic fan will keep thinking, “Okay, this is the bottom it won’t get worse. Once the injured guys get back everything will be back to normal.” But it keeps getting worse. Despite the batting practice-like pitching from the bulk of the staff, they are still 7-and-a-half games out of first place and the Wild Card. Not an insurmountable task or a death sentence, for sure. But they don’t want to fall ten games back. Once a team hits that mark,it’s almost psychologically over. It’s the offense keeping them out of the cellar, for now.
A surplus of decent outfielders, though, doesn’t outweigh the dreadful dearth of arms. But on the positive side, they may have found cornerstones in the outfield with Bryan Reynolds. A new everyday shortstop in Kevin Newman. A decent third bagger in Collin Moran and Elias Diaz looks ready to take over for Franciso Cervelli for good. Cervelli has been an oft-injured member of the team before it apparently became a thing all the kids wanted to do. Let’s not forget, Josh Bell is having the best season for a Pirates first baseman in over forty years.
All that offensive firepower is nullified, though, when five Pirate pitchers have ERA’s of 7.71 or higher. To paraphrase an old political cliche, it’s the pitching stupid. And until it’s not, consistent wins are going to be hard to find.