Following the sweep of the Diamondbacks in the not-so-distant past, the Pirates stood 4.5 games back from the Cubs for the division lead, the closest they had been since near the beginning of the season. However, the Pirates are 3-7 since then, dropping series against the Rangers, Marlins, and Angels, who range from beatable to definitely beatable. Now the Pirates find themselves looking at a 9.5 game deficit on June 5, which seems all but insurmountable given the team the Cubs have assembled (even Kyle Hendricks is killing it this year!).
So what now? The stretch of easy games for the Pirates is over. Between now and the All-Star break, they play the Mets, Rockies (1 game), Cards, Mets again, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Mariners, A’s, Cards, and Cubs. That’s going to be a tough stretch — the only pushovers in there are the A’s and the Rockies, who they play in a makeup game that interrupts a home stretch for the Pirates. This stretch is going to go a long way toward determining how the Pirates finish the season out.
This also comes at perhaps the most inopportune time, with the Pirates lineup roughly resembling the doctor’s waiting room after a riot. The Pirates have only about half their outfield healthy and approximately 0.5 catchers right now. Most of the injuries seem minor and these guys should get back on the field soon, but having a bunch of your regular positional starters at 80% heading into the toughest stretch of the season is worse than suboptimal.
So what’s to be done? Keep on soldiering on, is all. It’s not like the team is magically going to find a solution to their injury woes and general ineptitude. The Pirates have shown countless times this season what they’re capable of offensively; having all those talents together is a formidable challenge for opposing teams’ pitchers and defenses.
To look at some more positive aspects, the pitching is coming around in some regards. The last two wins the Pirates have as a team were both started by Jeff Locke, who’s looking much better than he did early in the season and is reportedly working on a new pitch ($$). Jon Niese is also pitching better and has turned in some solid outings recently, limiting runs allowed and working a respectable number of innings despite the Pirates not winning some of those games.
This is a pretty tough spot to be in, but every season has its ups and downs. I’m just concerned that the losses, injuries, and schedule working on concert are making this particular down significantly lower than previous ones. It's not all doom and gloom, though. The Pirates are still 4 games over .500 and easily within striking distance of capturing a Wild Card berth, which would be disappointing but still better than not making the playoffs. Starting pitching reinforcements are on the horizon. Gregory Polanco is having an absolutely stellar season (despite not getting the recognition in the All-Star game fan vote, which is the dumbest thing in sports), and the PIrates are a good baseball team. There are a lot of questions right now, but only the future holds the answers. The Pirates need to start by figuring out a way to get some wins against Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. Sounds like a challenge! Let’s go.