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Pirates bullpen sinking late leads

The Bucs bullpen ranks as one of the worst in baseball with a 4.33 ERA and 136 walks

Cincinnati Reds v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen has seen better days.

Long gone is the success and reliability of the “Shark Tank” bullpen led by closer Mark Melancon, but the Pirates showed flashes and consistency through the first two months of 2022.

Then June happened.

Pittsburgh is 9-18 since the calendar flipped from May, diminishing the Bucs’ record 15 games under .500 to 30-45.

The bullpen has wavered and blown numerous leads, against the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals in particular of late, contributing to the team’s fall from grace.

Derek Shelton’s club is 23rd in bullpen ERA (4.33) and has been especially bad spanning the past 10 games. Pittsburgh ranks 25th in baseball totaling a 5.01 ERA, in 88 innings. That includes only a 2.11 strikeout to walk ratio. The Pirates are also second to last in WHIP at 1.60.

Overall, the team has walked the third most (136) but struck out the sixth-most (301) in a high volume of innings.

An injury to Dillon Peters and the limited amount of time on the active roster for Duane Underwood Jr. has not helped the cause.

The continued ineffectiveness of Chris Stratton plagued the ‘pen for the first three months of the season. Originally depended upon as a top setup man, Stratton’s ERA has ballooned to 5.46 in 31 appearances after a 3.63 clip in 2021. He’s allowed 19 earned runs and seven walks in 31.1 innings, compiling a 1.50 WHIP.

Wil Crowe started the season as a lights-out option for one or two innings, but the former starter is now struggling to record more than three outs. Chase De Jong, Cam Vieaux, Tyler Beede, and Yerry De Los Santos are young options trying to carve out a role in the majors and producing mixed results.

David Bednar is the Pirates’ most dependable relief arm, but even he blew a save despite recording the first two outs of the ninth against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Bednar’s performance of limited control could be in effect to a back injury that has kept him out ever since, attempting to avoid an IL stint.

The Pirates simply do not have the arms to put away and sometimes keep up with competitive teams, or even the Washington Nationals at this point.

In the seventh inning or later, the Pirates allow an average of 1.45 runs. That’s 26th in baseball. Only the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, and Cincinnati Reds are worse.

Pittsburgh’s bats might be ever so slightly improving, 28th in average and runs scored, but the pitching is the real issue moving forward.

The majority of talent in the organization is on the hitting side, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Henry Davis, Travis Swaggerty, just to name a few.

Growing pains are going to come with young players who need time to adjust to major league pitching tendencies.

The Pirates bullpen has struggled for years to rank middle of the pack throughout baseball. This might just be the Bucs cooling-off period, sweeping the Dodgers being the high point, while the weather heats up.

Bullpen management by Shelton and the coaching staff has drawn question marks as to why certain pitchers are used in certain areas.

Pittsburgh’s inability to close out games has made an exciting three weeks of promotions and debuts by exciting young prospects turn into a dark three weeks full of blown leads and headaches.