There is no question the Pittsburgh Pirates were dealt a bit of a bad hand coming out of the All Star Break. The break could not have come at a worse time for what had been the hottest team in baseball throughout the first two weeks of July. Thanks to a pair of dramatic come from behind walk off wins over the Cardinals in the last two games prior to the All-Star Game the Pirates were set up for all kinds of momentum heading into the second half. But the four day layoff effectively poured cold water on the red hot Bucs. The timing of the break was bad for the club as they headed to Milwaukee to start the second half, but injuries sustained soon afterward was even more troublesome. Francisco Liriano was scratched minutes before a start paving the way for an unprepared Vance Worley to take the hill in the second game of the series in Milwaukee. Worley was staked to an early 3-0 lead. By the time he exited in the 4th inning the lead was gone and the Brewers had pulled ahead. The Pirates would go on to lose the second straight game of the series. But the worst turn of events was the loss of SS Jordy Mercer with a sprained knee. The Pirates infield depth was already depleted since Josh Harrison went on the DL earlier in the month. Now the Pirates are cobbling together a punchless lineup that includes the likes of Sean Rodriguez and Pedro Florimon. It is little wonder that the Bucs went 1-5 in their first road trip after the break.
Make no mistake, this team is feeling a palpable malaise, and A.J. Burnett admitted as much:
If you want to know the truth, and I mean this honestly, I don’t think we responded too well to the All-Star break, coming off all the good stuff that happened before, then being off for four days like that. – AJ Burnett
But before we chalk up the poor performance to bad luck and poor timing we should also put the skipper under a microscope. Clint Hurdle deserves a significant amount of blame for how poorly this Pirates team has played in the last week. He is the man that decided to set up the back of the rotation to toe the rubber in Milwaukee. Earl Weaver once said that “Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”. The Pirates decided to hold their best out for the first three games in Milwaukee. What kind of message does that send to your team? What does that say about the urgency of the second half for a team that is still fighting uphill to catch the first place Cardinals?
If that was Hurdle’s only sin it would be excusable. It was perfectly legitimate to reason that Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett could use an extended break. However, this was far from the only piece of mismanagement that Hurdle has been guilty of in the last week. In 6 straight games a Pirates’ starting pitcher has faltered in the middle of an inning. Hurdle hung on far too long with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton. The most egregious example was allowing Morton to pitch to Mike Moustakas last night for the 4th time in the game with Pirates trailing the Royals 2-1 in the 7th inning. Moustakas has some extreme platoon splits. To not bring in a southpaw reliever in a game that was close and late in that situation was negligent. The result was predictable – Moustakas smashed a 3-Run Homer that ended all doubt that the Pirates would take yet another loss.
The Pirates are in a tough spot. They are undermanned and face a daunting schedule over the next few weeks. There is still plenty of season left, and eventually some help will arrive – either via trade or the return of injured players. In the mean time if the ship is going to stay afloat the skipper needs to do a better job of steering it.