First Pitch: Indianapolis is Finished, Are the Pirates Finished Too?

The Indianapolis Indians were eliminated from the International League playoffs tonight, ending their season. That also wraps up the minor league season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The major league season has a little less than a month to go. But do the Pirates have anything left to play for?

I’ve got to be honest here. I didn’t watch much of the last two games. On Friday I was driving down to Raleigh to visit some friends. When I checked the score, the game looked out of reach, and that was before the Cubs had 12 runs. My first thought after seeing the one hit the Pirates had was “Jeff Samardzija must be on the mound”. My thought when I saw it was Travis Wood on the mound was “Who the hell is Travis Wood?”.

Today, Samardzija was on the mound, and while he didn’t take a one hitter in to the ninth inning, he did pitch a complete game to take the series from the Pirates.

I didn’t watch much of either game, which gives me a different perspective. I checked Twitter after each game, and the general feeling (especially after losing two in a row) was doom and gloom. There were questions whether the Pirates could even finish above .500 (they’d have to lose two out of every three games the rest of the year).

That attitude is expected, especially after watching a 12-2 loss on Friday, followed by a second loss against one of the worst teams in the league. The loss today was as acceptable as any loss could be. Even a bad team can win with their best pitcher on the mound. But the loss on Friday, with Travis Wood on the mound and the guy supposed to be your ace starting, isn’t acceptable.

Taking a step back (which is easy to do if you didn’t watch the games and experience the misery), they’re just two losses. The St. Louis Cardinals also lost the last two (actually, they lost the last three). The Pirates remain 1.5 games back from the Cardinals, and half a game back from the Dodgers. They’re still in the race.

The analysis about the Pirates right now is going to be focused too much on the last two games, or the recent stretch. That’s not to say that the recent stretch has been good. It’s been bad. It hasn’t been like a contender should play. But at the same time, the Cardinals and the Dodgers are also struggling. The Pirates are 4-6 in their last ten games. The Cardinals are 3-7, and the Dodgers are 5-5.

As I mentioned a week ago, the Pirates haven’t been hurt by their struggles, mostly because St. Louis and Los Angeles are also struggling. But eventually one team is going to break free. That might be St. Louis. It might be Los Angeles. It might even be Milwaukee or Arizona if the three leading teams continue their struggles. We hope it would be the Pirates. They’ve got the schedule to do it, which might be the most disappointing thing about their recent play. It’s a week since I wrote the article linked above, and the Pirates haven’t started playing like contenders yet. But they’ve been fortunate as the Cardinals and Dodgers haven’t played like contenders either. This won’t last the entire season.

The Pirates can do this. They’re slumping now, but the idea that this slump will continue the rest of the month is a bit ridiculous. Stepping back, it’s two losses in a row. That’s not good, but it’s not unheard of. One of those losses was embarrassing, but it still only counts as one loss.

A lot of what leads to the doom and gloom is that it’s the Pirates. They’ve lost 19 years in a row, so they’ll lose this year. They came close in 1997, but fell short of a winning season, and fell out of the race late. Last year they were in first place in July, then had a horrible finish to the season. All of those things happened to the Pirates in the past, so they’re absolutely going to happen again, right?

Not necessarily. That’s not how baseball works. It’s an easy way of thinking. The Pirates fell apart last year, and they’re struggling now, so this is just the start of that collapse again. But that’s lazy thinking. St. Louis and Los Angeles are also struggling, and no one is making the same claims about them. It’s a “grass is greener” view. The feeling isn’t that all three teams are struggling. The feeling seems to be that the Pirates are blowing their opportunity while the other teams are struggling, as if the Pirates can’t keep up if/when the Cardinals and Dodgers break out of their slumps. But the truth is that all three teams are close in record, and all three teams are struggling at the same time. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s the exact same.

It would be great for the Pirates to be winning while the other teams are struggling. But the lack of winning right now doesn’t mean the Pirates are out of it, or hurting their chances. They’re still 1.5 games out. A week ago they were 1.5 games out. A week before that they were one game back. A week before that they were one game up. A week before that they were 1.5 games up.

Look at this closely and base your opinions on the most recent games, and the outlook doesn’t look that great. But step back and look at the overall records and the Pirates and Cardinals have been separated by two games or under for the majority of the last month. To me that looks like a playoff race. And it just so happens that all three teams are slumping at the same time at the end of the season. But the race is still going on, and there’s no reason to think the Pirates are any less likely to contend than the Cardinals or the Dodgers.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost to the Cubs 4-3.

**Pirates Notebook: McDonald Showing Progress; Rotation Set for Cincinnati.

**Prospect Watch: Indianapolis Eliminated.

**9th Inning Rally Falls Short, And Indians Are Done For 2012.

**Oscar Tejeda Outrighted to Altoona.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • http://twitter.com/pirateswfc Brian

    True, St. Louis and L.A. have struggled too – but Atlanta has won 6 of 7 and is now virtually assured of a wild card. What had been a four-team race for two spots is now a three-team race for one spot, with the Pirates trailing both rivals – and with one or two other teams moving up to the fringes of contention.

    The Pirates certainly aren’t finished, but it’s pretty clearly incorrect to say they haven’t hurt their chances.

    • Lee Young

      Brian….they’re finished!

  • Lee Young

    Projections if we keep playing at our current pace.

    Since Aug 1 we’re 14-22, a .388 clip (9 wins….81-81)
    Since we beat the Cards @ Busch we’re 5-12, .294 clip (7 wins)
    After tomorrow we go on the road. We are 3-9 on the road (.250) since Aug 1.

    We
    have 3 @ Cin and 4 @ Chi. We’ll probably win 1 each series the way
    we’re playing (.286 pct, actually BETTER than the 3-9), putting us
    74-71 with 17 games to go.

    We would then have to go 7-10 (.411) to finish 81-81 and 8-9, ALMOST .500 to win 82.

    I’m sorry, I am just not seeing it.

    We
    face a guy who has a 9.00 record today. IF we can somehow score some runs on
    him and IF Locke somehow gets thru 6 with a QS, we MIGHT end up over
    .500.

    If the Cubs sweep us, we are going to collapse.

    Clint
    Hurdle does NOT know how to win and his boys are pressing. Outside of
    one lucky month he has NEVER won anywhere and for the 2nd year in a row his team
    is folding late. He keeps a guy, Bedard, who sucked, in his rotation and
    ‘benches’ Correia who had won (I think) 6 in a row. What kind of
    manager does that?

    What kind of manager plays JHay at SS when he had TWO real SS’s on the bench. What kind of manager….oh forget it!

    I sure wish we had somehow gotten Buck Showalter.

    500 Foo

  • leadoff

    So much was put on the schedule going down the stretch and I have said this so many times that I am tired of talking to myself. THE SCHEDULE IS MEANINGLESS TO THE PIRATES. They could play Beaver County Community college and lose, they could play the Yankees and win. IMO, the Pirates are not getting beat by anyone other than themselves, what is wrong with them goes all the way from being a tired team to an inexperienced team that is pressing very badly. Teams like the Cubs can throw every thing at them and play a relaxed game, tightness is tough thing to overcome, usually experience is the only cure. The Pirates are not done, but they are making it very difficult for themselves.

  • BarryJT

    If these were the first two bad losses in a row, I might believe you that it’s not over, but it is now a month and half of bad losses. 13-22 since August 1st? It’s not just the last ten game stretch that has been bad. They have to lose 2 of every 3 the rest of the way not to reach .500? In September, they are 2 – 5.

    This is a collapse.

  • Lee Young

    and NOW they go on the road to Cincy and Chicago. I’m hoping for at least 2 wins, but wouldn’t be surprised if we get swept in Cincy.

    If we go 1-6, a REAL possibility, we are 1 game over .500 coming home.

    Fooget the wild card. We’re gonna have serious problems getting over .500! Hard to believe we were once SIXTEEN games over!!!

    Hurdle has now ‘presided’ over back to back late season collapse. Coincidence???

  • JohnDreker

    I don’t think you can blame Hurdle, it was a team playing well over their heard for a stretch, and that team came crashing back down to Earth. This is the same team that had a losing record after 49 games this year and couldn’t score runs to save it’s life. They have a losing record over their last 59 games now. Meaning a five week stretch, in which they went 19-11(May28-July2) is the only reason you could say they are competing now. Seasons are six months long, not five weeks and Hurdle got a great run out of a mediocre at best team. Then he got zero help during the trade deadline, deals I think hurt the team because you broke up a cohesive group for a marginal(at best) upgrade. Can’t blame him for front office mistakes

  • Lee Young

    So Hurdle is blameless and it is ALL Neal’s fault?

    Pshaw!!!! :) :)

    The only player of note we ‘lost’ was Lincoln. Granted I liked him, but…
    Wandy, after a rough start has (to my surprise) pitched well. That’s a win! Snider has been an upgrade over Alex and Tabby. A win! Gaby has also played better than I thought he would and has been a nice platoon guy/PH.

    HURDLE was the guy who took KC out of the rotation (he’d only won 6 in a row) and KEPT Bedard in it. HURDLE is the guy who wins a game with a lineup and inexplicably changes it the next day. HURDLE is the guy who….oh the heck with it. He sucks.

    So Hurdle has them playing OVER their heads, but it is the players and Neal’s fault they are collapsing? Not buying it. And IF it’s chemistry in the clubhouse they upset, then perhaps THAT is pointing fingers at Mr Congeniality himself?

    Blaming NH for Hurdle’s flubs is incorrect, imho. If you take out that amazing Sept run in Colo, HURDLE has had a losing record everywhere he has gone!

    There’s a reason for that. He’s great in the clubhouse, but lousy in the dugout!

    As always, I hope I am wrong and he pulls us out of this tailspin. But, I doubt he will.

  • duckwoes

    So do you or do you not like CH? JK. I am a wee bit tired of the homespun aphorisms myself. I think he was a good hire, the anti-Russell. That’s what the team needed. But i completely agree with your clubhouse-dugout sentiment. His in-game managing is less than stellar. To see this Grounhog Day scenario playing out again is extremely frustrating!!!!

  • JohnDreker

    McGehee was replaced by Qualls, which was a major loss. He may have not been the best player, but he and Lincoln were both popular players in the dugout and part of the team that got them to where they were. The new players haven’t done anything to help obviously. There were grumblings from the players about NH doing nothing to help right after the deadline(players didn’t like losing Casey or Brad) and it has proven to be correct. I like the three deals you mentioned, but the last two aren’t deadline deals, they are off-season moves. Only the Wandy one made sense at the time.

    NH gets a major fail for that from me, he confused the Winter Meetings with the trade deadline.

    Pirates have won three of Wandy’s seven starts, two were against the Astros, one he didn’t get the win, not exactly something to brag about. So I won’t say it is a major win, he hasn’t made the team any better

    If you want to blame a manager that has to play the hands he is dealt, then go ahead, but also remember, he wasn’t the one that signed Barmes for 5mil, and I’m willing to bet that contract has something to do with Hurdle writing his name in the lineup everyday while Jordy Mercer sits. He didn’t sign Barajas and honestly, name one season in which Hurdle went into the year with a strong team and didn’t win, certainly can’t say his Pirates years.

    The year after the Rockies squeaked into the playoffs, he had major injuries to deal with and an ace that went 4-10 5.01, followed by throwing Livan Hernandez, Kip Wells, Greg Reynolds and Mark Redman out there way too many times. They had no depth and the loss of Helton and Tulo hurt them. That was the only season there were expectations for a team he managed

    I said it when this team was 16 games up and I said it before the year started, this team could win 82 games, just because the division is so weak, but this isn’t a playoff team.

  • Lee Young

    John….I love you man, but your argument is becomng laughable. Lincoln and McGeehee were popular in the dugout and THAT is why we’ve fallen apart?
    Wow….I have NO comeback for that.

    Sanchez…upgrade on Casey. No upgrade on Lincoln, but that isn’t why we’ve fallen apart. We had relief depth.

    Snider is an ugrade on Tabby/Presley.

    Where did you get this that the ballclub’s chemistry is the reason we’re falling apart? Who wrote that or is that just your opinion?

    So Clint had ZERO input in signing Barmes (a former Rockie) and Barajas? Are you kidding me? C’mon John, you can do better than this. You’re falling over backwards trying NOT to blame the great Hurdle.

  • Lee Young

    Duckwoes….not a Hurdle fan….never have been. He’s a one month wonder, despite what John writes above. You can’t blame injuries. Look at all the injuries the Orioles have had this year, yet they’re tied with the Yankers.