On August 8th, the Pittsburgh Pirates were 16 games over .500, with an expected win total of 93 games and a 75% chance of making the playoffs. They were 2.5 games behind the National League Central Division leading Cincinnati Reds and 3.5 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot.
On Thursday afternoon, the team lost to the Milwaukee Brewers by the score of 9-7, bringing their record on the season to 74-75 and reminding us that the franchise has not completed a regular season with a .500 record since 1992. Making this all the more heartbreaking is that the Pirates actually looked good on the day, leading 7-4 after seven innings, until their bullpen imploded, allowing four runs in the eighth inning and another in the ninth.
Since August 8th, the team has gone 11-30. They’ve now fallen 16.5 games back of the Cincinnati Reds, 5.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and now, even 3.0 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers, whom they previously enjoyed a 12.5 game lead over. They have less than a one percent chance of seeing the postseason, and are now expected to finish with a sub .500 record once again.
All of this, despite an MVP caliber season from center fielder Andrew McCutchen, above average performances from key players like Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, and the reemergence of A.J. Burnett as a top of the rotation starter. Of course, while these individual efforts have been impressive this season, a general lack of depth to the roster ended up hurting the Pirates.
Baseball is a fickle game, and even the best of players will go through periods in which they struggle. When a team’s roster is stacked, this fact doesn’t seem so nakedly evident as it would for fans of the Pirates who watched Mr. McCutchen go from slugging .632 over his first 100 games of the season to a measly .414 over his last 36 games. The Pittsburgh Pirates, as they’ve been built, simply can’t withstand such a decrease in production from their star player.
Contrast this to a team like the Texas Rangers, who earlier this season enjoyed an incredible run from Josh Hamilton. However, once his bat began to disappear (as more and more pitchers figured out to simply not throw him any more strikes), Nelson Cruz stepped up, and once he had a period of struggles, Adrian Beltre (!) filled in with an incredible display of offensive production.
Now, it’s quite easy to say that Team A should just be more like the Rangers, when Texas represents one of the best franchises in baseball. However, the overall point that the Pittsburgh Pirates were never really built for success stands.
All of this has caused some concern for the future of General Manager Neal Huntington, who has done well in terms of scrap heap shopping with Burnett, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and even former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider. However, over the course of his five years at the helm in Pittsburgh, he’s yet to see this ability emerge in anything other than promising starts followed by disappointing failures. In a way, he’s a victim of his own ability to raise expectations past the point to which they probably should remain by squeezing out as much production as possible from players who are unlikely to produce at the same level over the course of an entire season.
It’s not a fun time to be a Pirates fan. The team has a glut of talent in its system, but for the immediate future, which perhaps carries a bit more importance to it given the organization’s recent history in Pittsburgh, things don’t seem all together too bright for the submarining Pirates.
For more: Why the Pirates Always Limp To The Finish Line. [Fangraphs]
And The Rest
The New York Yankees are now a full game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. [River Avenue Blues]
Phil Hughes collected four strikeouts in one inning last night for the Yankees. [Big League Stew]
Amazing: In 17 extra inning games, the Orioles have played 57 innings. In that time, the O’s have outscored their opponents 30-5 and out-homered them 8-1. [Old Time Family Baseball]
The Washington Nationals clinched a playoff berth by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are now three games back of the second Wild Card spot. [Federal Baseball]
The Detroit Tigers are still two games back of the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central after losing to the Oakland Athletics who now have an identical record to the Baltimore Orioles as the two Wild Card holders in the American League. [Bless You Boys]
Scott Boras and Robinson Cano shoot down rumors of drug test failure. [New York Daily News]
The Triple Crown Watch. [Baseball Musings]
The Chicago White Sox will have some front office retooling to do after this season. [South Side Sox]
Wild Card game theory: Is there a scenario in which a team might not try to win a playoff game? [Baseball Prospectus]
Miguel Cabrera and the best hitters who weren’t MVPs. [Baseball Nation]
Getting out of the injury zone. [The Hardball Times]
Major League Baseball and television blackouts. [Yahoo! Sports]
The trailer for the new Jackie Robinson movie. [YouTube]
A Great Day in baseball:Chris Carpenter starts at Wrigley for the first time since winning Game 7 of the World Series.
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) September 21, 2012