So we know what the Pirates' specifically and the NL Central Division's 2017 season in general has been like. A mediocre team stuck in what is turning out to be a mediocre division. The Pirates played below .500 in both April and May, but, hey, in June they "surged" to a 13-13 record. You took a look at the division, and thought, well, maybe, just maybe, the team could hit a hot streak and somehow win the Central Division. After all, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, right?
All conditions looked good. The Pirates had won four of six games and marching into PNC Park for the holiday weekend, were the San Francisco Giants, the team that was, by record, the second worst team in the National League. Time to turn on the jets, get serious, win some ball games against a bad opponent, and begin a second half charge.
Instead, the Pirates rolled over and played dead and were swept by the Giants. They now stand at 37-45, six games behind the first place Brewers. Worse, they managed to get two pretty good starts from back-enders Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams yesterday and today got bupkis for the effort. I was at the game yesterday afternoon when the Giants did all that they could to help the Pirates win that game. Giants pitchers issued ten walks - TEN!! - and the Buccos managed 1 run while stranding fifteen - FIFTEEN!! - base runners. The game went into extra innings and the Giants scored the winning run on a Daniel Hudson wild pitch. I didn't see today's game, but the box score tells me that the bullpen, which stinks (with the exception of Felipe Rivera), blew another one.
As I have watched the Pirates this season, there has been nothing there that gets me excited about them. The personal irresponsibility of Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte put the team behind an eight ball so large that there is no getting out from it. You see guys like Phil Gosselin, Gift Ngoepe, Jacob Stalliings on the team. You see bench guys playing out of position and too often. And then there is that parade of stiffs and no names in that bullpen. And you see Max Moroff.
Hey, God bless the kid. He is only 24 years old, and he has fulfilled the dream of just about every American little boy - he is a professional baseball player who has made the major leagues. He may one day blossom and become an All-Star, and for his sake, I truly hope that he does, but.....He started today for the second game in a row and went 1-for-3 and this raised his batting average to .103. You read right...ONE-ZERO-THREE. Yes, he is a utility guy who is at best the twenty-fifth guy on the roster right now, but a guy toting a .103 BA should not be on a Major League roster. I mean....
One word describes this weekend against the Giants and it also describes this entire season: Disheartening. It began in the off-season when all talk seemed to center on the Pirates efforts to trade Andrew McCutchen. That talked continued throughout spring training and into the season, and will only ramp up as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
The Pirates are on a tightrope. Do they stand pat and/or trade for (cheap and inexpensive) guys who might help them win a lousy division and hope that the dice roll right for them in the post-season, or do they begin the process of tearing it all down and start a rebuild that might payoff with some success in a 2020-2023 window?
My guess is that Neal Huntington will start the rebuilding process (although he will never use that word), and between July 31 and Opening Day, 2018, guys like McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison, Tony Watson and others will no longer be Pirates, having been traded for various "prospects" with "high upside". Any trade that Pirates make will no doubt be able to be defended in a pure baseball sense, but when these guys go, especially Andrew McCutchen, "disheartening" won't even begin to describe how that is going to feel.