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Perrotto: Do Pirates Ever Have Sense of Urgency?

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Ben Cherington

Urgency isn’t the first word to come to mind when considering the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates entered the season talking about contending. It seemed to signal that the rebuilding project that gained full steam following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was coming to an end.

However, the Pirates have rarely looked like contenders through the first third of the season. They fell to 25-29 following an 8-1 loss on Sunday to the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park.

They are in fourth place in the National League Central, six games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers. The Pirates are on pace to finish 75-87, which would be one game worse than last season when they escaped the NL Central basement for the first time since 2018.

Yet the Pirates don’t seem upset about how they’ve played so far this season as the calendar has reached Memorial Day all over again.

Manager Derek Shelton occasionally shows bits and pieces of frustration in his post-game press conferences but never gets angry. General manager Ben Cherington is perpetually level-headed.

In a sense, it is good that Shelton and Cherington stay relentlessly positive. However, presenting to a fanbase who have endured 27 losing seasons in the last 31 years is also bad optics.

That causes many fans to question the Pirates’ sense of urgency to win, which is fair. Cherington, for his part, insists he wants to win now and hasn’t given up on the 2024 season.

“We feel urgency. I think we have to feel urgency, this is the big leagues,” Cherington said. “We are further along than we were three years ago. We all feel a sense of urgency and I think the best way to channel that urgency is into improvement. Let’s just keep getting better because with where we’re at, if we keep getting better day to day and month to month, then it’s going to add up to contention as soon as it can. I think there’s urgency, but we feel like what we can do with that urgency is focus on getting better.”

The counterargument is that the big leagues aren’t about getting better.  They are about winning.

The fans are weary of hearing about the Pirates’ process of improving and are more interested in their favorite team filling up the win column. Thus, it is safe to surmise that they can’t be thrilled with Cherington’s evaluation of this season.

“Incomplete,” Cherington said. “We’ve had good moments. We’ve had very frustrating moments. Some in between. I think we’ve seen glimpses of a team that can play well, play with anyone in the league and win games, stay in this right until the end. That’s definitely still what we’re focused on. We’ve also had days where it hasn’t looked like that.

“I really believe we can still accomplish what we want to accomplish this year. We’ve seen glimpses of the team being able to do that. We just have to keep focused on being better and making it happen.”

Pirates fans have been very patient with Cherington and Shelton, knowing they inherited a bad situation when hired following the 2019 season. However, that patience is wearing thin and I’m not basing that thought on echo chamber-like social media posts from disgruntled fans.

Shelton is starting to get boos when his name is announced during pre-game introductions at PNC Park. More and more fans I talk with are expressing doubts about Cherington’s ability to build a championship club.

Considering the Pirates are just two games out of the third NL wild card, Cherington and Shelton should be allowed to see this season through.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting may be the least-urgent person in baseball. His teams keep losing and he keeps making a sizable profit, so why should he worry?

Yet Nutting has some decisions to ponder if the final two-thirds of this season continues to be more about “getting better” and less about winning.

 

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