Disclaimer* For the most part, I'm writing this just to try and talk myself down from the ledge after a really depressing string of games. Much of this post is stuff that most of us on here probably already know. I know that posts like this tend to be unpopular so feel free to skip over it. If you're as upset as I am over how we have played and you're trying to talk yourself into believing that this club can still make a run, then maybe it's worth a read.
Ok, so this past week has been really unpleasant. In the 7 day span running from 12:00 am on July 27th through 11:59 pm on August 2nd, the Pirates went 1-7. They went from being tied atop the NL Central after beating the Braves in their previous game to 5.5 games back after last night's disheartening loss. Here's the thing; there are still 54 games to play. There have been a number of times this season already where all appeared lost, and we were well on our way to a 19th straight losing season (the 6 game losing streak, the blown lead against the Mets, the Cleveland series). So far, we have battled back. I'm holding out hope that we can do it again. Here's how the rest of our season shapes up as we sit on August 3rd:
The Pirates play 10 different teams down the stretch, 5 with a losing record; the Cubs, Padres, Reds, Astros, and Dodgers, 4 with a winning record; the Giants, Brewers, Cardinals and Diamondbacks and one with a .500 record; the Marlins. Their combined record so far is 528-573 (.480 winning %).The Pirates combined record against those teams this year is 32-27 (.542 winning %).
For much of this season, the Pirates have been unable to hit while having one of the better pitching staffs in the league. Now, after scoring 16 runs and hitting 6 HRs in their last 3 games, they apparently can't pitch anymore. Truth be told, I don't think we'll continue to hit this well or pitch this badly. However, I do think that the Pirates are a more talented baseball team than the one that was in 1st place a week ago. Now it's debatable whether an acceptable goal for this current collection of players should be going 28-26 to end the streak or 36-18 to get to 90 wins and maybe have a shot at the division (Milwaukee's on pace for 89 wins) but regardless of what happens, these are the guys who are going to play a central role:
Cutch-I know he's slumping but he's going to put up an OPS in the mid .800's the rest of the way because that's what he does
Neil Walker-His BA is up to .282 and he has a .951 OPS in his last 25 games
Derrek Lee-After being traded to Atlanta last year, Lee put up an .829 OPS. Replicating that would be huge.
Pedro-If he turns it on like he did last August and September he's a deserving cleanup hitter. If he doesn't, then he is currently a below average major league player.
Jose Tabata/Alex Presley/Garrett Jones/Ryan Ludwick-I'm lumping these guys together because out of the 4, we need two to play like good corner outfielders the rest of the way. Obviously, they all have different skill sets and different areas of concern but if we can have a couple of them playing well at any given time it could be big.
Brandon Wood-I know, this sounds crazy, but he has 6 HRs and a .769 OPS since May 31st. His strikeout rate is about 25% and his BB rate is about 9%. Neither is great but neither is horrible either. Cedeno has not looked as strong defensively as of late and he hits like Ronny Cedeno, so maybe it's time to give Richard Wood (a name with at least as many Jokes Above Replacement as Brian Bocock) an extended look.
The starters-I think early in the season, it seemed like they were due to regress. Do you really think they looked like they would regress into an absolute trainwreck, though? Will Charlie Morton really never have a ground ball hit to somebody in an important situation ever again? Is Kevin Correia really so bad that he should be allowing 4 HRs in a 9 batter span? I think the true talent level of this group lies somwhere between what they were and what they appear to be now. With an improved offense (remember, that was supposed to be the strength of this team coming into the year) average starting pitching can still give us a good shot at winning.
Ohlie and Brad Lincoln-Whether it's out of the pen or as a 6th starter, I just have a feeling that both of these guys will play a role down the stretch.
Joel Hanrahan-He is our best pitcher. He should be used when we absolutely need to get people out. He should not be used in the late innings of a rout, especially if that appearance can later be used to explain why he wasn't used when we absolutely needed to get people out.