The MLB playoffs and World Series come late in the year, but to me, having grown up in an era in which the Pirates were rarely relevant after May, baseball is more about the spring than the fall. It's about newly warm weather, and the end of the school year, and the promise of comfortable evenings outside. So this year, the season, the Pirates' descent into irrelevance and the organization's own seeming indifference to the quality of its product have made it harder and harder to pay close attention. I don't feel too guilty about it, either. On some level, this seems to be just the way the Pirates want it. This feeling is wrong, I'm sure, but it's real.
Take today, for example. The Bucs entered having lost 10 of their last 12, with many of the nastiest of those losses coming in games started by the likes of Drew Hutchison, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl and Ryan Vogelsong, who started today. I like Brault and Kuhl as much as the next guy, and both those pitchers have futures in the majors, but as BD contributor Dan Hopper has said repeatedly over the last few weeks, this isn't a rotation appropriate to a team that was, until recently, on the fringes of the playoff race.
Pirates lose with Brault & Hutchison starting, Vogelsong tomorrow. O & D have struggled at times but this isn't a serious rotation— Dan Hopper (@DanHoppSports) September 11, 2016
Then there's the way these losses have unfolded. Today, the Reds scored their first run on a liner by Brandon Phillips that bounced in front of Andrew McCutchen and literally went through his legs. Later in the inning, Tyler Holt hit a two-run triple and Eugenio Suarez hit a run-scoring infield single, and by the time the top of the second inning had ended, the Reds had a 5-0 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, the Pirates quickly put themselves in position to come back, as David Freese, Gregory Polanco and Sean Rodriguez all reached base to start the frame. But then Chris Stewart struck out, and Ryan Vogelsong came to the plate.
Did Vogelsong really need to hit with a 5-0 deficit and the bases loaded? Is it not September? Is the bullpen not filled with options, including some recent call-ups? Are there not currently 16 pitchers on the active roster? Is there really any value in allowing a 39-year-old mediocrity like Ryan Vogelsong to play out the string when there are ballgames to be won?
I'd like to think I know the answers to some of those questions, but apparently mine aren't the same as Clint Hurdle's. Vogelsong whiffed, the Pirates left the bases loaded, and the game continued on its irrelevant course. Gregory Polanco got ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Vogelsong allowed another run before exiting in the fourth. The Pirates continued leaving men on base left and right, including another bases-loaded bagel in the fifth. Pedro Florimon and Eric Fryer entered. And the world continued to spin on its axis.
The Pirates' 2011 and 2012 collapses were painful, but they were cushioned somewhat, at least for me, because I could mostly tell that the Bucs wanted to win and that they had what seemed to be at least a somewhat coherent plan designed to help them do so in the future. Now, though, I really have no idea. The Pirates have talented players, and their management has amply demonstrated it deserves the benefit of the doubt. But when I watch this team right now, and when I think about the moves they've made over the past year, I no longer see a team, or an organization, striding confidently into the future. I'm not sure what that means, but I hate that the data points most readily available right now are the games this team is currently playing.