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Ten Things That Went Wrong for the Pirates in 2021 – No. 9: Division Difficulties

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The good news for the Pirates last season? In interleague games and matchups with the National League East, the team went .500 – a combined record of 27-27. The Pirates put up very respectable showings against the American League and their senior circuit counterparts in the East. The issues for the Pirates arose from the NL West (a record of 11-21) and most importantly, the Bucs struggled against their NL Central divisional foes.

In 2020, Derek Shelton’s first year at the helm, the Pirates played 40 of their 60 total games against division opponents and posted a record of 16-24 (.400). In 2021, the Pirates did even worse vs. the Central, going 23-53 (.303) in 76 games. That record against their division was third worst in Major League Baseball, trailing only the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Pirates were most successful against the playoff-bound St. Louis Cardinals, amassing a 7-12 record vs the Red Birds. The Bucs went 6-13 against the Reds, including a 1-8 record at Great American Ballpark, and posted identical 5-14 records against the Brewers and Cubs.

With almost half of each year’s game coming against teams in the NL Central, the Pirates will have to figure out a way to play better against the division moving forward. Since 2013, the Pirates have had only one year where they have gone .500 or better against the division – going 43-33 against the Central in 2018.

Heading into 2022, Milwaukee at the moment appear to be the frontrunners to take the division title again thanks to arguably the best pitching staff in baseball. The Cardinals will surely be a good team again, though this time with a new manager in Oli Marmol. Cincinnati’s offseason plans will dictate how much of a challenge they will pose to the Pirates since the team already traded catcher Tucker Barnhart to Detroit and outfielder Nick Castellanos opted out of the two years remaining on his deal. The Cubs traded just about all their star players during last year’s trade deadline and appear to be retooling in 2022. Even so, after the trade deadline, the Pirates went just 1-6 against the Cubs this passed year.

It will surely be another losing season for the Pirates in 2022 as the club is seemingly in the later stages of their rebuilding process. In order to take the next step, Pittsburgh will need to flip their fortunes vs. the four other teams that make up the National League Central.

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