After what many assumed would be a breakthrough victory last Sunday, the Pirates made a strong case for game-to-game momentum being a myth in Major League Baseball.
While winning their 19-inning stalemate with the St. Louis Cardinals was better than the alternative, the aftereffects of the marathon effort have been quite similar to last year’s slump following a lengthy loss in Atlanta. It seems logical, but it’s worth a reminder every now and then: baseball is more of a grind than any other sport, with day-to-day consistency preferable to riding emotional waves.
That’s to say nothing of the physical toll the game took on the club, especially the bullpen. Kevin Correia was decent enough in his spot start last Monday, when the offense misfired in a 3-1 loss in San Diego, but it could be argued that manager Clint Hurdle tried to squeeze a little too much out of A.J. Burnett in Tuesday’s back-and-forth tilt.
The Pirates’ ace wasn’t at his best but he had a 3-2 lead entering the bottom of the sixth, only to give it away before being pulled in the seventh. Garrett Jones forced extra innings with a two-out blast in the ninth, but the Padres victimized the weak underbelly of the Bucs’ pitching staff to win in the 10th.
James McDonald gave the Padres an early lead in Wednesday’s matinee, and the bats were stagnant against a rookie starter making his major-league debut. Mental fatigue looked to be the culprit, with many Pirates taking impatient approaches the entire afternoon.
After an off day Thursday (more on that below), there are no easy explanations for the Bucs dropping a home series to underachieving Milwaukee. But getting swept in San Diego is a letdown that could eventually cost the team a playoff spot, even though the Padres are suddenly the hottest team in the National League.
Shooting down an off day
As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Dejan Kovacevic reported Friday, the Pirates had to sacrifice the majority of their scheduled off day Thursday to participate in a charity skeet-shooting event at majority owner Bob Nutting’s Seven Springs resort.
The intent was admirable, but as Kovacevic said in the above piece, the timing was abysmal. The Pirates were noticeably lacking for energy after playing 20 games in 20 days, including a grueling cross-country road trip that wrapped up when they arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Nutting reportedly gave the Pirates the option to postpone the outing, which includes a lengthy bus ride into the central Pennsylvanian mountains, to their next off day in early September. While the players declined that and elected to “get it over with,” wouldn’t everyone have been better served to either postpone until the fall or cancel?
The outrage directed at the Pirates management is well-deserved. This controversy speaks to how the organization isn’t accustomed to playing to win at this time of year. One can hope the Bucs’ brass learns from this situation and doesn’t make the mistake of distracting from a potential pennant race in the future.
Handling with (excessive) care?
Following Erik Bedard’s third-straight subpar start Sunday, speculation that he will be removed from the rotation has ramped up. Meanwhile, catcher Rod Barajas has grossly underperformed modest expectations and shortstop Clint Barmes has ridden his defensive prowess into consistent playing time, even though his offensive production has been slightly more than nil.
What do those three players have in common? They all signed as free agents last winter. Cynical Pirates fans might say Barajas, Barmes and Bedard are being given preferential treatment to show prospective free agents that Pittsburgh can be a friendly place to play for veterans.
I would argue that this Pirates management team has a history of being risk-averse, especially when it comes to young, inexperienced players. I don’t think there is anything more to this trend than that, although I could be convinced otherwise if more evidence presents itself over the next month or so.
Remember: even though Starling Marte had to sustain his high level of play at Triple-A before getting a promotion, he was handed the leadoff spot and the left field position immediately upon his promotion in late July. A player may have to break down the door to get a serious opportunity, but that doesn’t mean the Pirates are afraid of giving young talent a chance.
However, in a situation like the Pirates are in now, that cautious approach may not give them the best chance to surge from behind in a playoff chase. Time will tell, and late-season pressure could force the Bucs to do something they wouldn’t do normally.
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