This was going to be a fun summer.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were going to continue to surprise people throughout June, July and August. They were going to play meaningful games in September, albeit aided by playing in the weak National League Central.
Yet with each passing day, it looks like it is going to be another cruel summer for the Pirates. Apologies to Bananarama.
The Pirates’ losing streak reached nine games Wednesday with an 8-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. It marked the second time in as many weeks that the Cubs took three of three from the Pirates.
These Cubs are not the 1927 New York Yankees. Or even the 2016 Cubs.
Instead, they are a mishmash of a few high-priced stars, a lot of journeymen and some young players. Yet they steamrolled the Pirates.
The Pirates have been outscored 65-20 during their skid, making it look even uglier than it already is.
A wise baseball man once told me that even the best teams will look terrible over a two-week stretch of a six-month season. In other words, it is prudent to stay patient when a team is playing poorly.
Thus, perhaps no one should panic over the Pirates’ losing streak.
Yet my baseball instincts tell me the Pirates have played so poorly over the last week and a half that there is some major reasons for concern.
The Pirates have been awful in every phase of the game. They can’t score runs, they can’t prevent runs and the fundamental mistakes that defined the Pirates over the previous four seasons are now again being made daily.
It’s been hard to watch, as bad as any stretch the Pirates had from 2019-22 when they finished last in the National League Central for four straight seasons. Then throw in the fact they are missing two projected members of their rotation – JT Brubaker and Vince Velasquez – because of season-ending elbow surgeries and ultra-talented shortstop Oneil Cruz is still in what is expected to be a four-month rehab of his broken left ankle and that makes things seem even worse.
The disappointing part is it seemed like things were going to be different when the Pirates got off to a 20-8 start. They had the look and feel of a team ready to defy the odds and have a special season.
Even when the Pirates lost 19 of their next 25 games, they rebounded and were back in first place in the division as recently as one week ago.
Now, the Pirates are in fourth place and trail the division-leading Cincinnati Reds by five games. That deficit feels more like 50 games.
And here is a very soberting statistic: The Pirates are 14-31 since that great start for a Oakland/Kansas City-like winning percentage of .311.
It really is too bad that the Pirates’ season is quickly slipping away.
There has been a sense of excitement around PNC Park that has been lacking since the Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole prior to the 2018 season. The fans were excited to see a winning team and allowed themselves the chance to dream of meaningful games in September – and maybe even October.
Instead, it looks like going to be another long summer.
Of course, it’s instinctive to remember that the Pirates were pegged as a fourth-place team when the season began. Now, they are playing like a last-place club.