"Sample Size" is one of those phrases that's growing in popularity in the sports world. It's often used to describe a player or a team. For example: "I'm not sure if 11 at-bats is a big enough sample size to know if player A has finally found his stroke." I'm not really big on the phrase, and I think it's rather annoying. However, when it comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates these days, it can certainly be put to good use. The Pirates are 10-19 over the past 29 games, and they're only 2-6-1 in their last nine series, dating back to August 3rd. They went into a little mini slide right around the time of the Reds series in early August where they went 5-9 over a two week stretch. It happens, right? No need to panic, especially after it looked like Pittsburgh righted the ship by taking two of three against the Cardinals in St. Louis two weekends ago, including an epic 19-inning affair that was almost too awesome for words. I know I was excited and pumped up after the win. After the way the Pirates fortunes took a nose-dive following the 19 inning loss against the Braves in July of last season, I thought maybe the victory over the Cardinals would trumpet in a new direction.
I was pretty much set to throw in the towel, but when the Pirates took two of three from the Cardinals at PNC last week--including two straight shut-outs--I was twirling that towel instead.
The Pirates went into Miller Park on Friday only .5 game back of the Cardinals in the race for the second wild card. However, instead of taking advantage of a scuffling St. Louis ball club--the Cardinals lost two games to the Nationals over the weekend--the Pirates were swept by the Brewers and actually lost ground in the standings.
What we've learned about the Pittsburgh Pirates during this 29 game sample size is that they somehow have a way of looking quite dominant against the Cardinals--Pittsburgh probably should have won the last nine games against St. Louis, dating back to a series at the end of June--but they can't defeat anyone else. You take away the four of six that they've won over the Cardinals during this stretch, and the Pirates are 6-17 against everyone else. If that isn't an indicator that this team has just about had it, I don't know what is.
Instead of 6-17, had the Pirates gone 9-14 or 10-13, they'd be in much better shape. They'd be maybe 2.5 games up in the race for the second wild card, and closing in on the Braves for the top spot. When you're playing lesser teams like the Padres and Brewers, and you've just made a statement by looking superior vs. the World Series Champions, you're supposed to parlay that into something special.
I know what a lot of people are going to say: The Pirates have a lot of winnable games coming up against the likes of the Astros and Cubs during the next 29 game sample size. That's a little encouraging, but I think this just completed 29 game entree is much more indicative of what these guys are right now, and I'm not so sure if even sampling a team as historically bad as the 2012 Houston Astros will be enough to take the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates to where we'd like to see them go.