Just a little over a month ago, things were great in Pittsburgh. The Jolly Roger was flying nightly, the home runs were flying out of the ballpark, and the Pirates were in the midst of a tight battle with the Cincinnati Reds. During that time, I discussed how the Pirates were likely to make a move after Joey Votto had gone down with a knee injury. I had thought the Pirates were easily the team to beat in the National League Central.
I simply forgot that I was talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Now here we are, with 34 games remaining on the schedule, and the Pirates have reverted. An 8-14 record in the month of August has not only dropped them 8 games behind the Reds in the NL Central race, but they have also given up the Wild Card lead to fellow division rival St. Louis, whom they now trail by 2 games. The biggest culprit of that particular swoon has been a 1-5 record against the lowly San Diego Padres during the month, games which the Pirates should have used in order to state tight with the suddenly hot Reds and Cardinals.
So what is killing the Pirates in the midst of their most triumphant season since 1992? It is not the hitting, which has gotten solid performances out of nearly every player in the line-up over the last 30 days. No, the problem has been the pitching, and the starting rotation in particular. A unit that was once close to the top in baseball in team ERA now ranks 10th overall in that category thanks to an August where the entire team has a 4.70 ERA, good enough for 24th in all of baseball.
Again looking at the starting rotation, we see where the problems lie. James McDonald, Erik Bedard, and Kevin Correia have all registered an ERA over 6.00 and a WHIP over 1.50 for the past 30 days. Wandy Rodriguez, who has taken Correia’s spot in the rotation, is sitting just below 5.00 and 1.50 respectively. Only A.J. Burnett has stayed consistent over the past month.
The bullpen does not escape the scrutiny either. Joel Hanrahan has reverted a bit, but has still been moderately successful. The same cannot be said for the likes of Chad Qualls (acquired in the Casey McGehee trade), Jared Hughes, or Chris Resop, all three who serve important late inning roles but have struggled nearly as much as McDonald and Correia.
Suddenly, the Pirates season, which was encouraging playoff dreams a month ago, now looks like it will be a struggle just to remain a winning team. They still sit 9 games about the fabled .500 mark, one in which they have missed every season since 1992, but things will need to turn around quickly if they want to keep it that way. With the Dodgers making their move with a big trade on Friday and the Cardinals finding their late season swagger, that task has just become that much more difficult for the Pirates.
Still, this is too good of a team to continue playing this way. This ship will right itself and there is still plenty of time left to plunder.