Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates relied heavily on a top-notch pitching staff, from their surprisingly effective starting rotation to their shutdown bullpen. Pittsburgh’s hitting was always suspect, but it was usually good enough to give Clint Hurdle’s slingers a chance to win the game.
This year, the Bucs’ bats are equally inept, but their arms just aren’t getting it done. The Pirates fell to the San Francisco Giants on Monday night 11-10 in 13 innings, blowing a six-run lead in the process. The loss was typical of what the Pirates have done so far this season. When the Bucs are getting hits, they pitch poorly. When they’re pitching well, they can’t buy a hit. If the Pirates want to get back to their winning ways, they’ll need to get their pitching staff figured out immediately from the top to the bottom.
Pittsburgh’s starting pitchers are a combined 3-15, with only Gerrit Cole posting a sub-4.00 ERA (3.69). Charlie Morton (0-4, 4.21 ERA) and Francisco Liriano (0-3, 4.54 ERA) haven’t been awful, but they sure don’t look like the guys who anchored Pittsburgh’s rotation last year, either. Edinson Volquez started hot, but has since cooled, and Wandy Rodriguez spent his first four starts in the freezer before landing on the DL (again).
Meanwhile, the bullpen hasn’t performed like they did last year, particularly at the back end. Jason Grilli, who is now on the 15-day DL, blew three of his seven save opportunities, and the rest of the pen has combined to blow four more saves. When Grilli returns, it’ll be interesting to see if he remains the closer, but conventional knowledge says that the ninth-inning responsibilities are now Melancon’s to lose (which he got a head start at on Monday night).
To make matters worse, top prospect Jameson Taillon, who Pirates fans were looking forward to seeing for the first time this summer, is out for at least a year, and it’s likely he won’t be up in Pittsburgh until the 2016 season. Although Pittsburgh’s farm system is filled with quality arms (Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham and Luis Heredia), only Taillon was on track to help this starting rotation in 2014, which means Neal Huntington may be looking for an overpriced, established arm once again this summer.
Luckily for the Pirates, it’s still early. The bats are starting to wake up, so maybe the pitching staff will follow suit. If the starters start to pick up their games, it might put the killer instinct back into the shark tank, and all of a sudden it might start to seem like 2013 again.
Hey, it’s April. There’s no reason not to look on the bright side.