Is There an Echo in Here? Pirates Waste Another Excellent Start

If you remember the recap from yesterday, or the day before, or half the other ones from this misbegotten mini-season, you can just as easily skip this one.  But in case you want specifics, J.T. Brubaker gave the Pirates yet another outstanding start, but Ben & Derry’s lineup remained in its season-long coma and the Pirates lost to the Cubs, 5-0.

Brubaker went six and two-third, allowing just two runs on four hits and a walk.  He fanned nine.  The two runs were unfortunate, as they always are against the Pirates.  In the second, Kyle Schwarber led off with a double and made it to third with two outs.  Javier Baez got him in with a perfectly placed bunt single.  In the fifth, Brubaker plunked Jason Kipnis with two out and Victor Caratini lined a ball perfectly into the gap in right center.  A little to the left or right and the ball might have been cut off soon enough to keep Kipnis from scoring.

Brubaker departed with two out in the seventh and his pitch count at 98.  Austin Davis got the last out in that inning and the first two in the eighth.  He left after allowing a single and Blake Cederlind got his first real introduction to the majors.  He failed to retire a batter, giving up Davis’ run and two of his own, making it 5-0.  Nick Tropeano — who, incredibly, ranks third on the Pirates in bWAR — got the last four outs.

The Pirates’ hitters were, of course, hopelessly overmatched against . . . whomever.  Does it even matter?  A starter and some relievers from the classification homo sapiens held the helpless ones to four hits, all singles.  The Pirates’ major league player had two of them.  Jared Oliva made his major league debut as the game’s last batter and struck out.

The Pirates are now 15-39.  Their latest losing streak is five, and they’ve lost 13 of 14.

What’s the most striking about the Pirates’ recent play is the similarity to their late-season collapse last year.  The fielding blunders, the complete lack of situational awareness at the plate, you name it, it’s all there.  Last year, the common phrase was, “Hurdle has lost the team.”  That was supposed to change with a more “player-centric” atmosphere under new management.  So why does the team, once again, look like it just wants to go home?

Certainly, the single biggest problem is lack of talent.  The front office has been deluding itself for years, through two administrations now, with the “good young core” theory.  Maybe they’ll wake up to reality now, although I’ll believe it when I see it.

But maybe there’s more going on.  This is a bad team, but I don’t think it’s quite this bad.  It’s hard to put together a .278 team.  Two more losses and this will be the worst Pirate team since 1890.  The single biggest vibe I’ve gotten from the people running this team for years now is complacency.  Bad performances, failed strategies, the same mistakes occurring over and over . . . nothing seems to create any sense of urgency or determination to take a new direction.  Nothing spurs any action except a threat to Bob Nutting’s bottom line.  And Nutting is the bottom line.  He’s the one constant.

The players have to notice this.  You can hit .140 or give up a gopher ball every three innings and keep your job.  The manager can make obviously stupid moves that cost games and it’s okay.  Results don’t matter, we’re evaluating.  Bad results certainly won’t get in the way of giving a guy with a 6.86 ERA regular outings, even with the game on the line, because he has veteran tenure.  Maybe the reason so many of their players got better as soon as they went elsewhere is that expectations were higher; the goal became winning instead of conducting an endless learning process.

Even late in yet another lost season, winning should still be an important goal.  If nothing else, the games should matter because next season’s potential ticket buyers (if there is a next season) are watching.  But the Pirates have never seemed to understand that.