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Pirates shutout again by Cubs; This isn’t what improvement looks like

The Pirates’ refusal to change and adapt amid mixed messaging from management.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Henry Davis’s best efforts in his debut, doubling and drawing a walk. The Pittsburgh Pirates dropped an ugly game 8-0 to the Cubs, they followed that up with an equally depressing 4-0 loss in the second game.

Bryan Reynolds is dealing with lower back tightness, Andrew McCutchen with a right elbow issue.

Oneil Cruz remains out until mid-August. Ji-Man Choi now eligible to come off the 60-day IL, will likely require a rehab of some kind. The pitching staff has dealt with both injury and underperformance.

Now that the things they can’t control are out of the way, this team stinks.

Going some small number for some large number with runners in scoring position and stranding an even bigger number. They’ve been completely unable to find a gap or get something to drop in when they needed it for the past week.

Almost everyone not named McCutchen or Reynolds is slumping. Suwinski is 0 for his last 19 at-bats. Coming into the game on the 20th Tucapita Marcano had a WRC+ of 23 in June, Connor Joe’s was 50. Despite a league average WRC+ in June, Carlos Santana is hitting under .200 since May 1. Still almost comedically taking his spot hitting cleanup on a nightly basis.

The Pirates have lost eight in a row, sliding from first place all the way to fourth. The messaging from Bucs management dating back to the start of the 2022 offseason through now has been mixed.

Team president Travis Williams, who rarely speaks with media outside of heavily controlled team press events, had this to say about the state of the team.

“Hopefully, we’ll settle into something that continues to allow us to be in contention for the division and make the playoffs... That’s certainly our hope. I know the recent seven-game slide here hasn’t been what the fans want nor what we want I think we’ll be able to turn it around, get back on track, hopefully get closer to April, put a streak out there and get back to playoff contention.”

Meanwhile General Manager Ben Cherrington said earlier in the season that the Pirates were out-preforming internal projections, that their own models did not have the Bucs as a .500 team.

This team has a problem with not understanding what a healthy relationship looks like between themselves and the fanbase. To the point where it feels like it could be the subject of its own in-depth analysis.

With a publicly-stated desire on improving the roster in the 2022-23 off-season, hearing in May that their own internal projections didn’t have them as a .500 ballclub feels somewhat like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When they were not performing as expected by the front office and in first place headed into the road trip that started the current eight-game slide, they did not make significant changes to address any of their weaknesses to capitalize a weak division. Just as they did not after the horrid 6-22 stretch in May.

Was the Reds being in first and the Cardinals being among the league’s worst part of those projections?

Minimal changes in player deployment and insignificant changes to the roster aside from Henry Davis, who was kept in the Minors past even the thought of super 2.

All while the fourth to third to now first-place Reds called up their fifth and first-ranked prospects, 95th and third overall according to MLB pipeline, to make their debuts on May 15 and June 6 respectively.

And that’s not a rallying cry to call up the prospects from AAA, it's a rallying cry to do or try something, anything, to stop the bleeding.

It made for an awkward and uncomfortable moment the night of Davis’s debut when Austin Hedges was booed every plate appearance he took. The moment was made more awkward and more uncomfortable by Cherrington’s comments on the broadcast.

“We believe Austin and JD (Delay) have been a strength of the team.”

Austin Hedges is currently in the midst of what could be one of the worst single-season offensive performances ever.

His 29 OPS+ would put him tied for 15th-worst among catchers who have appeared in 82 games since 1871 with the author of six of the “top” 15 spots and debatably worst Major League hitter of all time Bill Burgen.

Well on his way to appear in that many games and currently on pace to appear in 99, move the threshold to 100 and it would be the fourth-worst ever by a backstop to appear in that many games, and tied for 23rd-worst ever from any position. He climbs even higher on the list when you sift out those with few plate appearances.

To describe so putrid of a performance as a “strength” in any capacity, in any context, is not the tone you want to strike during an implosion to the rock bottom point in the season. Citing his intangibles or defensive metrics is not going to cut it.

I have bad news for Travis Williams too, simply hoping for a change in the team’s fortunes and a return to the top spot will not make it happen.

That speaks to more than just Hedges.

Stacking successes matters on the long path to building a championship quality team. Winning is not a switch you flip, it’s a culture you build.

It is not a culture built by complacency or indifference.