Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Slumping Pittsburgh Pirates

I don't have to tell you how awesome and magical the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates season has been for the organization as well as for fans like me, who have waited years to see the kind of on-field success that we've witnessed so far.

Right now, the Bucs are 64-52 and currently have a half game lead for the second wild card spot in the National League. Back in April, if anyone would have thought the above-scenario would be taking place on August 15th, I think just about every fan would have signed his/her name in blood.

What a great story, right? Well, it has been a tremendous story, and if it ended today, it would be quite the successful one. However, there are still a few more chapters remaining in the 2012 season, and right now, the Pirates find themselves in the uncertain point of the story where you don't know if the hero will survive its perils and come out on the other end still in one piece.

Just two weeks ago, Pittsburgh's record stood at 60-44, and that lead in the wild card standings was up to four games. Since then, the Pirates are 4-8 and have lost five of their past six games. And if it wasn't for a nine run outburst in the fourth inning of Sunday's comeback win over the Padres, Pittsburgh would be on a six-game skid and on the wrong side of a wild card spot.

I think even the most optimistic Pirates fan would confess that they're at least a little worried at this point. Before the All-Star break, the Pirates were on a 16-6 roll. Since then, they're 16-15. Before this current 11-game home-stand, the Pirates had the best home record in baseball at 34-16. This was supposed to be a stretch where the Pirates made a statement. Instead, they're currently 3-6. Last Tuesday, the Pirates lost their first game of the season when leading after seven innings in a 10-4 loss to the Diamondbacks. Three days later, they blew a 7-1 lead and lost 9-8 to the lowly Padres. The next night, the Pirates were shut-out by San Diego. The team put up another goose-egg last night in an 11-0 beat-down at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are closing in fast and could occupy that second wild card spot with a third straight victory this evening at PNC Park.

Maybe this is just another slump, and a lot of the people who are critical of the naysayers will be saying "I told you so" a week from now. I sure hope you're right.

However, I'm beginning to wonder if this is just a minor slump. Last season, Andrew McCutchen struggled in the second half. This year, he's struggling again, with only one home run and 5 RBI in the past 25 games. Pedro Alvarez has also seen a significant dip in his power, with only one home run since July 23rd.

If not for the offensive contributions of Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and the newly called up Starling Marte, one only knows where the Pirates would find themselves right now.

As for the starting pitching, what once was a source of strength has turned into a source of anxiety. A.J. Burnett has remained as consistent as any pitcher in the league, but the rest of the rotation is one huge question mark, especially James McDonald, who has completely lost it in the second half and has given up 30 runs in his last 31 innings.

Maybe chemistry is an issue. Since the trading deadline, when Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez and Mark Qualls were added to the team and Casey McGehee and Brad Lincoln were sent packing, the Pirates have failed to win a series.

I hope the team gets its act together soon. There are many ways for the 2012 season to have a successful ending--the least of which would be to end the 19 years of losing--but there is still that outside chance that this fairy-tale story could have a very bad ending.

If things don't turn around soon, the last chapter of the Pirates 2012 story might not be such a good read.

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