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Pirates’ failure to make adjustments looming large

The Pirates own a -196 run differential, second worst in baseball.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Pirates have lost eight of their last 10 and are 31 games under .500 at 49-80.

Pittsburgh is in the basement of a poor NL Central, fading faster than the rebuilding Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.

In a division where it was clear the Cubs and Reds were going to struggle, the Pirates had a shot at claiming third behind St. Louis and now slumping Milwaukee. Instead, they’re 2.5 games out of fourth and 5.5 back of third.

Derek Shelton’s squad lost seven games in a row, including a three-game sweep against the Braves Atlanta at PNC Park, failing to make necessary adjustments to change the trajectory.

Between the bullpen, defensive lapses, and poor decision making, the Pirates have not shown any improvement in comparison to the last three seasons. One of the main examples of how the 2022 campaign has played out is Monday night’s loss in Milwaukee.

Trailing 3-0 entering the fifth inning, Jason Delay singled in a run with two on and one out. Oneil Cruz followed by crushing a three-run home run that exited the park in a hurry to give the Pirates the lead. Rodolfo Castro hit a solo shot for his fifth of the year to further extend the lead 5-3.

Duane Underwood Jr., who’s been wildly inconsistent late in games, found himself in trouble in the eighth. Two runs came across to score one batter after Wil Crowe replaced him.

Crowe allowed a two-run walk-off homer to Keaton Hiura to win it, further exemplifying the Pirates' inability to close out games, especially with David Bednar out the last month.

Shelton and the staff have failed to make adjustments to the team in necessary areas. Are they trying to and it’s just not working?

Why wasn’t Jack Suwinski in the Majors the past month? I know he was hitting around .200 in Indianapolis, but why not let him do that here? It’s not like you’re four games out of the Wild Card chase.

Where has Travis Swaggerty been? Does constantly throwing Greg Allen into the starting lineup have any benefit in the long run?

Josh VanMeter has seen considerably less playing time since mid-August. It’s a similar discussion as Allen. Why not play Tucapita Marcano more instead? The Pirates are finally starting to do that with Marcano mainly seeing left field.

Sometimes, the adjustments you DON’T make end up being the best ones.

Tyler Beede thrived in a bullpen role before entering the starting rotation for four turns, struggling more and more as each start passed by. He allowed 10 runs in his last two starts spanning seven innings, starts of four and three frames, respectively.

Recognizing that there is no perfect situation here and optimizing a less-than-ideal roster is a challenge in itself, but something worth pondering as we put a bow on the season: is the team still playing hard for Derek Shelton? At times during the recent losing streak, it didn’t seem so.

When Clint Hurdle was concluding his final season as Pirates manager, things spiraled around the team with arguments, notable quotes, and a sense of discomfort that made Hurdle returning less and less likely.

Ben Cherington has publicly committed to Shelton returning, but things must drastically change if all the hype about prospects and an anticipated year to contend is to turn from fantasy to reality.

Prospects are the future, there’s no other way for the Pirates to succeed otherwise. But it’s time for smarter decisions, better bullpen management, and for players who have little future on the team to be deferred for young players. If you are going to lose with young players, so be it. But to lose with VanMeter, Allen, and others is unnecessary.

The Pirates need to end the season on a high note because since June the team has fallen and not picked itself back up for a winning streak.

One month remains to see if a team with a -196 run differential can find positive momentum to close the book on 2022.