Back on May 16, I was at PNC Park and watched the Pirates defeat the Chicago White Sox 3-0 and boost their record to 25-17. The next day, the Bucs defeated San Diego and went to 26-17, nine games over .500. They were in first place, one-half game ahead of the Brewers.
At the time, skeptics were saying things like, "well, sure, but they've been beating up on a bunch of bad teams" (which good teams, I remind you, are supposed to do). The real test, those same skeptics said, will come during an upcoming stretch when they would play 19 games over six series with the Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks. Until then, they would play six more games against bottom feeders San Diego and Cincinnati and would surely fatten up that nine-games-over-.500 margin. Then, if they could go 10-9 or even 9-10 or 8-11 in those six series with the Big Boys, then, well, we were going to be in for a big summer with the Pirates.
You know what happened. In seven subsequent series, including those two against the "bottom feeder" Padres and Reds, the Pirates won exactly ONE game in each of them. They are 8-18 since that May 17 win over the Padres, and in that 19 game stretch that was going to tell the story of the season, they went 6-13, and some of those losses were simply horrifying to behold. They are now 33-35 and are in fourth placer, eight games out of first place.
The starting lineup often includes Gregory Polanco (.204 BA) and Sean Rodriguez (.159).
The leading home run hitter, Francisco Cervelli, has 9, and the leading RBI producer, Josh Bell, has 36. By contrast, Mike Trout currently has 23 HRs and 45 RBIs. The Pirates may not have a guy with 45 RBIs by the All-Star break, and they may not have anyone hit 23 HRs for the season.
Rookie Nick Kingham has been a bright spot in the starting rotation, and he keeps getting shuttled back and forth to Indianapolis.
Rookie Austin Meadows has been a HUGE bright spot as a hitter, yet he often sits so Polanco can still get playing time.
How much faith do you have every time Ivan Nova, Trevor Williams, or Chad Kuhl starts a game?
How much faith do you have whenever anyone in the bullpen is called upon to preserve a slim lead, or even, as has been the case in the last week, a large lead?
How much faith do you have that on any given night, the Pirates are starting their eight best players?
The Pirates have played 68 games, or 42% of the season. It is no longer "still early", and it won't be too much longer before it will be "too late" to expect anything good top come of this season, if that point hasn't been reached already.
At the beginning of the season, I picked this team to win 73 games. To achieve that mark, they will have to go 40-54 the rest of the way. The way it looks now, my prediction looks pretty solid.
At our monthly breakfast last week, our pal Jim Haller mentioned that since the Pirates last World Series championship, the team has had only 10 winning seasons in the 38 seasons since then. This prompted Dan Bonk and I to do a little research, and what we discovered is not good, although it is also not surprising.
Twenty-six teams have played in those 38 seasons (the expansionist Rays, Marlins, Rockies, and Diamondbacks are not included). Care to hazard a guess as to which team has won the FEWEST games in those 38 seasons, and, by definition, has lost the most games in that period? It is none other than our own Pittsburgh Pirates who have won 2,828 games, thirty-six fewer games than the next team on this dubious list, the Kansas City Royals. NO TEAM has had fewer than the ten winning seasons that the Pirates have had. Only two other teams (Mariners and Nats/Expos) besides the Pirates have failed to reach the World Series in that 1980-2017 time frames. Even each of he four expansion teams have reached the World Series at least once since their inceptions.
If you became a Pirates fan in 1980, your only awareness of this team is that it may well be the worst team in the history of your Fandom. I mean, I knew things were bad, but I would not have guessed that they were THIS bad over the course of the last thirty-eight years.
In case you are wondering, the team that has won the most games over the last thirty-eight years has been the New York Yankees with 3,388 wins, a whopping 560, almost three and one-half seasons worth of games, more than the Buccos.