A closer look at the Pirates’ 8-game losing streak
With the Pittsburgh Pirates on an eight-game losing streak (the franchise’s longest since 2016) and a day off Monday, this seems like a good time to evaluate what’s gone wrong.
Here are five talking points, some that have contributed to the recent slide and a couple that have averted a disaster (if this isn’t one already).
1. The Tampa Bay trade
Give general manager Neal Huntington credit for striking when the team was hot last season, trading for Chris Archer after the Pirates had won 11 in a row and climbed within six games of first place. There was two months to go. Anything was possible.
It didn’t work out, with Archer failing to pitch into the sixth inning in his first five starts as a Pirate. He won his final two to finish 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA and eight home runs allowed in 521⁄3 innings. Still, that generated hope, with Archer under contract through 2021. Better days were ahead.
This season, he did not pitch poorly until giving up six hits (two homers) and six runs in four innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. He’s 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA and 1.296 WHIP. Plus, he’s on the injured list with right thumb inflammation, but he doesn’t figure to miss more than one start.
Compare that to Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, players the Pirates sacrificed to acquire Archer.
Glasnow is 5-0 as a starter, with a 1.75 ERA (fourth-best in baseball) and 0.94 WHIP for the Rays, who had the best record in baseball (18-9) before Monday. Amazingly, he has walked just seven in 36 innings. At the time of the trade, Glasnow was a relief pitcher who did nothing but frustrate Pirates management and the fans with a 4.34 ERA and 34 walks in 56 innings.
Like Archer, Meadows is on the injured list (thumb) with the Rays, but he has six homers, 19 RBIs and a slash line of .351/.422/.676. He’d be a nice thumper in the lineup to mix with Josh Bell and Melky Cabrera. All numbers would lead the Pirates — with the exception of Bryan Reynolds’ .429 on-base percentage in only seven games.
Did Huntington act too hastily in making a trade that hasn’t worked out yet? It’s too early to be judgmental, but we’re talking about why the Pirates have lost eight in a row now.
2. Josh Bell’s power comes with a price
Bell is slashing .280/.355/.591, and his six homers and 19 RBIs are far and away tops on the team.
But his trouble throwing from first to second base — an important task because it can keep a runner out of scoring position — reduces the Pirates’ already small margin for error.
3. Where would they be without Melky?
If Gregory Polanco hadn’t hurt his shoulder, Cabrera, 34, might be somewhere else. But his .333 batting average leads the team, and he might even start to provide some power on a team that desperately needs it. He had four hits against the Dodgers — two homers, a double and single — on Sunday. The rest of team had only five (four singles).
Before Sunday, the Pirates had scored 15 runs in their previous eight games. Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson are hurt, and their absence can’t be ignored.
But they were struggling at the plate when they left the lineup. Meanwhile, regulars Jung Ho Kang (.160) and Francisco Cervelli (.175) have underachieved.
The pitching is good but not good enough to throw shutouts every night.
4. Don’t blame the starters
No one’s perfect, and Trevor Williams proved that Sunday when he gave up eight hits and five runs in six innings. Before that, he had thrown 31 innings, allowing only 24 hits and six walks with a 2.59 ERA.
The Pirates won 12 of their first 18 games, thanks to the starters. If they start to struggle, the bats better pick up or last place in the National League Central might be the next stop.
5. What’s ahead?
After two games in Texas, the Pirates come home for a five-game homestand against the Oakland A’s and Rangers. Then, it’s another long road trip to St. Louis, Arizona and San Diego.
Fans started staying away last week when attendance for the four games against the Diamondbacks totaled 36,606. The home opener drew 37,336.
Injuries have played a big part in the Pirates’ descent, but excuses — even valid ones — don’t put people in the seats.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .