Monday, August 27, 2012

Pirates down but hardly done

By Dejan Kovacevic
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
August 27, 2012

Oh, I suppose it would be easy to carve up Erik Bedard for getting crushed again. He’s the one the capacity crowd of 36,626 booed off the field Sunday at PNC Park after giving up six runs in the Pirates’ 7-0 smackdown by the Brewers.

That’s 16 runs in Bedard’s past three starts.

I could go after the lineup’s laughable lack of discipline, too. Mark Rogers, the 26-year-old Milwaukee pitcher recycled from the minors in July, somehow got away with flailing 101 pitches over five innings — outlaboring even the glacial Bedard — and the Pirates made him pay with three hits, three walks and an egg on the board.
Every pitch must have looked like a painted strike, huh?

I could pick on many individuals digging this offensive hole, led off by the Pirates’ two best. Neil Walker has four hits in 37 at-bats since that 5-for-5 gem Aug. 12. Andrew McCutchen, now clinging to his MVP candidacy, is at .185 in the past 16 games. Back-to-back in the order Sunday, they went 0 for 9.

Sorry, not good enough. Not when the games count most.

I could also describe the sad sight of hundreds of fans streaming over the bridge back to Downtown as soon as the fifth inning.

It stinks, all of it.

The Pirates stink right now.

They’re 68-59, the closest point to .500 since July 16.

They’ve lost five of six since that 19-inning triumph in St. Louis that so many — myself included — thought would forever expunge Jerry Meals from the record.

They’ve fallen eight games behind the Reds for first place in the Central Division, which you can kiss goodbye.

They’ve fallen out of the wild card, too, now two behind the Cardinals and a half-game behind the Dodgers, who just invested a third-world nation’s GDP into their roster.

If the situation looked dire two weeks ago, it now looks desperate.

But I’ll say it right here, even amid the aftermath of this latest mess: The Pirates aren’t done.

How could they be?

Forget hope. Forget emotion. Let’s go over a few facts:

• The Pirates have 35 games left. Seven are against the stripped-down Cubs, six against these sub-.500 Brewers, six against the historically awful Astros and four against the nosediving Mets. That’s roughly half the slate.

• For better or worse, the Pirates get to face the teams currently holding the two wild-card spots — the Braves and Cardinals — beginning with the vital home series with St. Louis that opens Monday night.

• They believe.

And, yeah, after listening to them following this loss, I’ll file that under fact.

The clubhouse was silent, maybe a little sullen. But I’ve been around enough quitting Pirates teams to identify them.

I’ve seen collapses, too. We all saw it last summer. The wheels completely came off, the heads were hanging, the whole bit.

This isn’t either.

“There’s a lot of fight in here,” Walker said. “These last three weeks have been tough for us, no question, but we have to keep grinding it out. That’s kind of our motto now. Keep grinding it out until we’re back to playing at the level we know we can.”

“Nothing’s changed,” reliever Jason Grilli said. “I’m showing up here to win the next game.”

There’s obviously little momentum to back up such sentiments, of course. It’s been a 9-15 August. It’s the first time all summer the pitching and offense have sputtered simultaneously.

But let me ask: Did anyone think this team was as good at pitching as April and May, or that it had baseball’s most powerful offense as it did in June and July?

Of course not.

The statheads have a term for this called reversion to the mean. It’s about streaks and slumps eventually balancing out.

The Gunner had a better term for it: Hidden vigorish.

It can still apply.

A.J. Burnett and Jeff Karstens continue to pitch well. Wandy Rodriguez has settled. And if Bedard and James McDonald don’t do a whole lot better very soon, Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle need to start maneuvering the roster and rotation as if it’s an actual pennant race. There’s plenty of pitching in Indianapolis.

The bullpen is lighter since the Brad Lincoln trade, but Grilli and Joel Hanrahan still have the team 58-1 when leading through seven.

Offensively, McCutchen and Walker will come around. Garrett Jones shows no sign of cooling. Travis Snider has hit .292 since the trade. Starling Marte will be back.

The Pirates would do well to pop open a jar of vigorish soon, but it’s hardly unthinkable that they will.

I asked Burnett, the team’s unquestioned leader and the man taking the ball Monday, if the fire burns as brightly as a month ago.

“It absolutely does,” he came back. “With how far we’ve come, with where we are in the standings, with what we’ve got left in the season, there’s no reason not to feel that way. Every single day, for nine innings, we’re coming to play. The fight’s in here.”

He paused.

“But it can’t be winning a game or two. We need to get on a roll.”

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for
Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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