5 things we learned about the Pirates over disastrous post-break roadtrip
The excitement, enthusiasm and good vibes the Pittsburgh Pirates took into the All-Star break by way of 14 wins over a 21-game span dissipated in a major way over the six days since National League play resumed.
Losing five of six to two of the three teams the Pirates are chasing in the NL Central race dropped the Pirates from 2 ½ games out in the division to 6 ½ back, as well as four back in the wild card.
They’re down to five games under .500. Another series loss – the Philadelphia Phillies are in town for games Friday-Sunday – and the Pirates could be approaching the 100-game pole of the season with the second-worst record in the NL.
Yep, even the New York Mets – the 2019 Mets! – appear poised to pass them.
This is all over-reactionary, of course. Even a rotten six-game stretch (outrscored 36-18) is just 3.7% of the season. But the roadtrip through Chicago and St. Louis robbed the Pirates of some more of what is a precious commodity for a chasing team: time.
Talk-show hosts and media pundits alike tend to far too often arbitrarily designate particular series or homestands or even individual games as “must-win” or “crucial.” But with the Pirates already five games under .500 and a game out of last place, it truly is reaching a critical mass of put-up-or-shut-up time.
After getting swept by the Cubs, some said the Pirates needed to win six of a week-and-a-half stretch that began Monday, or “the season might be all but over.” That is still in play – if the Pirates take five of seven in this homestand (the Cardinals are at PNC Park for four games Monday-Thursday).
If the Pirates limp to a 2-5 homestand, for example, with the trade deadline six days after that, general manager Neal Huntington would have no choice but to look to 2020.
The good news is that the Pirates can't lose today.
— Jackie (@rallycapjax) July 18, 2019
For starters, it’s trouble
If the Phillies series is a crucial one, it’s probably not comforting that the Pirates’ starters for the first two games, respectively, have a 10.13 ERA in his past seven starts and 9.53 ERA in his past four starts.
But that’s where Jordan Lyles (1.051 opponent OPS) and Trevor Williams (1.093 opponent OPS) are right now after their efforts of the past 60 days.
The good news? Philadelphia’s probable starters Friday and Saturday likewise are struggling: Jake Arrieta has a 6.33 ERA in his past four starts and Zach Eflin has allowed six or more runs in three of his last four starts.
Josh Bell never was going to maintain the pace he was on when during May he was having one of the best offensive months in the history of the major leagues. But that doesn’t make his regression to the mean any less comfortable to swallow for a desperate team.
Since June 10, Bell is hitting .210 with 32 strikeouts in 148 plate appearances, though he still has nine home runs in that time. Over his past 10 games, Bell is hitting .147 with a .495 OPS, one home run and 13 strikeouts in 39 plate appearances.
And for the home-run-derby-ruins-your-swing crowd, there’s this: Bell is hitting .111 with one extra-base hit and eight strikeouts in five games since the break.
Up the Crick
After a stretch in which it was the strength that it had been hoped to be when the season began, the Pirates bullpen has begun to show come cracks again. None moreso than with Kyle Crick, the purported top set-up man who seemingly has been demoted to a lower-leverage role.
Crick pitched the eighth inning Wednesday – but it was with the Pirates trailing. The good news is that it was a clean inning – only the second outing in which he did not walk a batter since June 2, and it was the first outing of more than one batter faced that he did not allow a hit or a walk since May 4.
The Pirates playoff teams of earlier this decade were built, in part, in strong defense. Their struggles this season are also partially attributable to defense.
Basic statistics aren’t overly kind to the Pirates’ fielders: they have the ninth-most errors in the majors in most errors, the 10th-worst fielding percentage. But a deeper dive into the analytics suggests the Pirates are even worse than that.
Defensive runs above average is an all-encompassing Fangraphs.com metric that measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average. The Pirates rank 14th in the 15-team NL overall in defensive runs above average.
They’re also last in the majors in it at third base, last in the NL at catcher, second-to-last in the NL in right field and first base, fifth-worst in the NL in centerfield and 27th in the majors in defensive runs above average by their pitchers.
Thank goodness for Adam Frazier: the Pirates are fourth in majors in DRAA at second base.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .