Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Bucs stand still while opponents get better

John Axford (2-3, 3.72)

The Pirates are locked in a tight three-team divisional race, yet there is one factor that separates them from their competitors for the National League Central title.
The Brewers and Cardinals really want to win.
They’ve shown that by their actions.
The Brewers acquired late-inning reliever Jonathan Broxton from the Reds on Sunday to reinforce a bullpen that has become increasingly leaky as the season has gone on.
The Cardinals traded for right-handed starters Justin Masterson and John Lackey in late July. Masterson has been a bust, but Lackey provides a battle-tested No. 2 starter to slot behind Adam Wainwright in the postseason rotation.
The Pirates?
They picked up reliever John Axford off waivers three weeks ago from the Indians for nothing more than agreeing to pay the remaining $1.1 million of his salary.
While the Brewers and Cardinals made serious moves in an attempt to win the division, the Pirates did nothing more than acquire a reliever that manager Clint Hurdle has shown little faith in using.
Axford had been pitching in low-leverage situations, for the most part, since joining the Pirates until Monday. When Hurdle used him in a big spot during a pivotal road matchup against the Cardinals Monday, Axford didn’t get it done in a 4-4 game in the seventh inning as he gave up Matt Holliday’s game-winning single.
It has been obvious for months that the Pirates weren’t going to ride their bullpen to the postseason like they did last year unless they added reinforcements.
They had plenty of time to acquire a significant relief pitcher and failed. The Pirates whiffed at the July 31 non-waiver trading dealing and again at Sunday’s deadline to acquire players who would be eligible for the postseason roster.
The Pirates provided plenty of excuses for being unable to make a trade, including high asking prices by other teams and many relievers being blocked on waivers following July 31.
Yet the Brewers got something done. So did the Cardinals.
Chances are that general manager Neal Huntington not being “Wheel and Deal Neal” is going to hurt the Pirates in a hotly contested race.
If it costs them the chance of going back to the postseason, Huntington will have a long winter to ponder how his unwillingness to pull the trigger caused the season to end too early.

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