Considering the Cubs were pummeled in Milwaukee this week, I decided to use the team’s off day as a chance to talk about something other than rookie pitchers, strikeouts looking and general bad baseball, which pretty much eliminates a Cubs article.
Instead, today’s post is about a more compelling story in the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates, a club I’ve kept my eye on since they became a trendy pick this spring as a possible surprise playoff contender in the National League.
The origins of this hype began last season when Pittsburgh held the division lead through the first 100-games of the season. A second half decline of legendary proportions, however, didn’t faze all the baseball pundits over the winter, despite Pittsburgh finishing the 2011 campaign with a 90-loss record.
THE 2012 PITTSBURGH PIRATES
When the Pirates took two of three games at St. Louis over the weekend I began wondering if the other shoe to Pittsburgh’s magical season would ever drop?
I had been anticipating the Pirates decline even since they were leading the NL Central at the All Star break (48-37). Pittsburgh simply lacked the fire-power needed in its lineup to fend-off its much deeper divisional foes in St. Louis and Cincinnati.
But less than two weeks after the mid-summer break the Pirates were still in position to become buyers before the non-waiver trade deadline–something not seen in western Pennsylvania in two decades.
With the right trades, perhaps, Pittsburgh could keep its heart-warming story of reaching the postseason alive through September.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE THE TRADE DEADLINE?
On July 25 Pittsburgh trailed first place Cincinnati by only 2.5 games. But on the same day the club also completed a blockbuster trade for starter Wandy Rodriguez, which culminated with a four-game winning streak (beginning with the Cubs, no less).
Six days later at the July 31 trade deadline the Pirates dealt for Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez to bolster its lineup. The first place Reds, with a 3.0 games lead, remained well within striking distance. But did the Pirates get enough in its trade returns to hold steady?
The answer appears to be a resounding ‘no’. Rodriguez has been a flat bust going (1-3, 5.06) while Snider and Sanchez have combined for just one HR & six RBI in 104 at-bats.
The Pirates, not surprisingly, have played sub-.500 baseball since the trade deadline (8-13) while its second half record also dipped below .500 (19-20) after suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Padres this week.
Meanwhile, the Reds (76-49) have risen to the second best record in baseball while increasing its division cushion over Pittsburgh to 8.5 games, not to mention, the surging Cardinals jumped the Buccos in the standings this week.
WHAT ABOUT THE WILD CARD?
Atlanta (71-53) and St. Louis (67-56) currently hold the two wild card spots. The Dodgers and Pirates share identical (67-57) records and sit a half game back of the Cardinals.
If the wild and dramatic finish to the 2011 regular season taught us anything, it’s that much can change over the final 40-games.
In Pittsburgh’s case, however, I’m feeling more certain they’ll soon be out of the postseason race altogether and less certain they’ll maintain a season record above .500, a mark the club has failed to accomplish in the last 19 seasons.
If the other shoe to the Pirates season hasn’t hit the floor already, it’s definitely falling fast. Sound familiar, Cubs fans?