I’m going to give you a little peek behind the curtain here. This is the 4th iteration of this article that I’ve done. I originally planned to write a variation of this article almost one month ago, just prior to the Orioles series. The Pirates had a decent run of games ahead of them with the pitching-poor Orioles and the struggling Marlins. And then the Pirates punched their fans in the collective stomachs with two terrible blown saves in the 9th inning against the O’s. So I sat on that draft.
It seemed like every time I wanted to re-visit that draft when the Pirates won a few in a row, they would go into a weekend series and fall flat on their face. Iteration number two was when the Pirates won the first two in Milwaukee, to get to 33-38 and just 4.0 games back of the division, only to again squander late inning chances and lose the next two.
At times I feel like a modern-day Sisyphus, with the rock that I continually push up the hill representing my Pirates fandom. I was all set for today’s article to be a comparison of how the Pirates shouldn’t be like the 1997 White Sox and their infamous White Flag trade, due to the fact that both teams were hovering below .500 but within theoretical striking distance of their division. It was a decent-ish article. It wouldn’t make the TPOP Hall of Fame or anything, but it was a good enough one.
And then this past weekend’s series happened against the Giants, who lugged a 30-51 into PNC Park. The Giants have a lot of name-brand talent on the roster, but it’s been a real struggle for most of their hitters and pitchers this year. The Pirates had favorable pitching matchups in each game. One sweep later and here I am on the fourth and final iteration of this article.
The Pirates suck.
There. I said it. And I feel better for having done so.
So today, on a day where we celebrate our forefathers throwing off the shackles of unfair rule and expectations, I invite you to do the same with the Pirates. They are an abomination this year and should not, under any circumstance, be thought of as a viable contender for the NL Central this year.
People, including me, keep waiting for the Pirates to snap out of it and go on a run. They’ve had the capability to do so in recent weeks, but the bullpen are the concrete boots around this mob stool pigeon of a team.
I thought Tony Watson would be fine as a closer. I was wrong.
I thought Daniel Hudson would be a strong set up man. I was wrong.
I liked Felipe Rivero a lot. OK…there’s only so much self-flagellation I can do. That made me feel a little better after dragging the cat-o-nine-tails over my back for a few paragraphs.
What a bizarre season it has been so far for the Pirates and the NL Central. What has gone on with the Pirates (Kang, Marte, Taillon) is well-trod territory. Typically when a team in nine games under .500 on July 4th, it’s pretty clear that some assets are being ticketed for trades. The national and local media see the Pirates with a sub .500 record and start up the process of picking the flesh off the bones of the team for trade proposals, like crows with carrion.
The frustrating part is that with an even moderately competent bullpen, this team could have been either challenging the Brewers or leading the laconic 2017 NL Central. The same Brewers that have no reliable starting pitching, the same Brewers that won 73 games last year, the same Brewers whose own GM would tell you in his quietest of moments that he didn’t expect to be competitive this year. And what about the Cubs? Everyone, including myself, had them down for a high-90’s win total and a fairly easy division title. Instead they’ve muddled along with a 41-41 record, veterans like John Lackey showing their age, Miguel Montero getting DFA’ed for running his mouth, and Kyle Schwarber getting demoted to AAA because he can’t hit. The Cardinals have just had a systemic down year from veterans and young guys they envisioned to be their next core.
I believe that Huntington will treat July as a sell-off of all potential free agents, like Watson, Jaso, and Nicasio, but just listen on McCutchen, Cole, and Harrison. All three can be retained for 2018, at least by picking up McCutchen’s option and seeing what happens in the offseason, and make one last run at it with this veteran core that been cultured since 2011.
While Huntington is evaluating the team in July, one easy move would be to bring up LHP Steven Brault to replace Chad Kuhl in the rotation. Kuhl simply doesn’t have the command and the ability to face a lineup more than two times through an order. I’ve long advocated that Kuhl is a bullpen guy long term. Prior to the start of the year, I referred to him as Jared Hughes 2.0, but Kuhl’s stuff has ticked up enough and changed from a heavy sinker diet that he’s evolved into something potentially better. He could be the Pirates’ version of the Astros’ Chris Devenski, a multi-inning weapon they use to bring the gap from their starters to the back end of their pen. Brault replaces Kuhl, Kuhl replaces Jhan Marinez. I’m not saying I’m a long-term fan of Brault, but I’ve seen enough of Kuhl as a starter and Brault has demonstrated an uptick in his own stuff to warrant another shot.
The 2017 NL Central is going to be won, most likely, with whatever team can get to 85 wins first. What a kick in the pants that the Pirates couldn’t win the division with 98 wins in 2015 and had to settle for a Wild Card. We’ll all keep writing about the Pirates here at TPOP, but for me it will be with an eye to 2018 and no longer gazing at the eminently attainable division in 2017.