When someone mentioned to Clint Hurdle on Monday afternoon that baseball is a difficult game to figure out, he enjoyed a good laugh.
Which is probably a good thing for a manager to do occasionally when his team has lost 27 of 34 games.
“There’s some wisdom there,” he said, with a good dose of sarcasm. “Every time you think you got it figured out, sit down and watch what happens next.”
That sounds like a good way to summarize the Pittsburgh Pirates’ season since the All-Star break.
Or, more to the point, what the Pirates and Washington Nationals have run into over the past week. The teams opened a four-game series Monday night at PNC Park.
After winning five of six against the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers — two of the National League’s best teams — the Pirates fell from one game under .500 on July 7 to 21 under in six weeks.
Before Monday, the Nationals had scored 50 runs in their previous four games (and one of them was a 2-1 victory against the Brewers).
“How about the game they had Saturday?” Hurdle said, referencing the Nationals’ 15-14, 14-inning loss to the Brewers. The Nationals used 22 players, nine of them pitchers.
“What kind of game do you think might break out Sunday?” Hurdle said. “Every pitcher used, every player, this might be low-scoring. Guys are tired. They came home late. Not so fast.”
The Nationals won 16-8.
“There’s no telling,” he said. “That’s the beauty of what we get to do, No. 1, and I think it’s just a constant reminder there are two kinds of people in this game: Those who are humbled and those who are about to be. Actually, that’s true in life.”
And that brings up the Pirates’ dilemma.
After scoring 29 runs and collecting 43 hits in three games last week, they managed only eight and 22 in the next four.
The slump, of course, is a by-product of the Pirates’ roster issues — not enough good hitters — but especially quiet were the team’s three switch-hitters, Melky Cabrera, Bryan Reynolds and Josh Bell, who were a combined 0 for 33 before Monday’s game. All three have had long stretches of success this season, and all three were in the starting lineup Monday.
Cabrera’s average has dipped dramatically from .350 on May 8 to .335 on June 3 to .280 before Monday. Bell was at .280 and now shares the National League RBI lead (98) with Arizona’s Eduardo Escobar and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman. Reynolds has fallen to .326, still an impressive fourth in the National League as he shoots to become the first rookie to lead the league in hitting.
“We’re trying to isolate some things,” Hurdle said, seeking a common thread for the three hitters’ problems.
He said Cabrera has shown a recent tendency to chase pitches out of the strike zone.
“I know there are times he hunts pitches,” Hurdle said. “There are times he’s hunted them well and not missed them and times he’s hunted them and missed them.
“It can be one of the cycles any player can go through from time to time. He’ll be the first one to tell you he’s had some pitches to hit. He hasn’t hit them. He’s not getting the ball in the air with the efficiency as he was in the first half.”