It’s not a secret that the Pirates haven’t been playing their best baseball over the last several weeks. The team knows it, the Manager knows it, the fans know it, but what will be most critical is how they recover from it.
Pittsburgh posted a losing record in the month of August (11-17) after going an impressive 17-9 in their hot month of July. Over their last 20 games, the club has gone just 6-14. Throughout the season when their offense wasn’t consistent, their pitching picked the team up. And vice versa when the arms on the mound struggled, the offense found ways to battle back and do big things with the swing of the bat. But lately, neither has been consistent and it’s created a domino effect.
“There’s a trust element that’s unique in this game,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “And you need to take care of your own backyard. Once in a while when your own backyard is in a good place, you might be able to help a brother out. But it’s tough being good everyday. And that’s what I try to get my guys to focus on, not trying to pick up for someone else. That’s like trying to be good, and taking it to great in a hurry and you’re not even good anymore after a while. The repetition of this game can be maddening, but It can lead to what you call greatness.”
What Hurdle has done throughout the season is have the players revisit the good times, and the good months, when they are scuffling. Whether it be good at-bats, or a good outing, Hurdle makes sure the players don’t get too caught up on right now, and focus on the big picture.
“It’s throughout the season because it’s much as individual case by case situations as anything,” Hurdle said. “There’s times during the season where we’ve taken every guy back to good times, even collectively as a group.”
“Our April, our May, how tough our first two months were from an offensive standpoint. And how we were able to pitch and play defense, scratch out a bunch of wins. June and July and how the offense spurted up. You revisit different things to make sure they are still aware of what’s gone on and what’s transpired this season. And they [so] they don’t fall into a vacuum of what they’re living in right now. Just try to keep them positive moving forward.”
After losing 4-2 on Sunday, the Pirates were swept by fifth-place Chicago over the weekend. They went 0-for-11 with RISP on Sunday, while leaving 13 men on base. In a six-game homestand, the club faced two sub-.500 teams (also Houston), but instead left Pittsburgh going just 2-4.
“At the end of the day, it’s a team loss,” Hurdle said. “All of them are team losses. We’re not doing enough things well as a team to win games…We’ve got to play better ball. We’ve got to cash in on opportunities when they’re there. We need to put innings away. We’ve got to spark up some locations in the bullpen. We’ve got to find a way to play better. The one thing that we really need to understand too is that we’re playing a game. Yes, games are important. Yes, this is what we do. But we are playing a game. Sometimes you lose sight of that.”
The Pirates have the opportunity to make up ground in the division on the roadtrip, in which they play the National League Central leading Cincinnati on Monday, then a four game series in Chicago.
“Everything is in front of us,” Hurdle said. “We need to win games. You don’t need more incentives than being in the place we’re in right now. You need to win more games. You would like to find something that would unlock you…If I’m a player, back in the day, 100 years ago, I mean, it’s time to win a game. It doesn’t really matter who you’re playing. It’s time to put a foot down and win a game.”
“We need to play better. That’s it. I’m not going to get up here and point fingers or this or that. I’m telling you how I feel. We’ve got to play better. And that’s it. And they know that. We had an opportunity to do some things at home. We did not get that done. We’ve got to move on. We’ve got to go to Cincinnati and play the best team in the Division right now and find a way to win a game tomorrow.”
With 23 games left in the regular season, the Pirates are still within playoff reach. They entered game action on Sunday just 1.5 back of St. Louis for the second spot in the National League Wild Card. Although they’ve not been playing their best ball, a winning string of games could push them back into that second spot.
“This goes on all season long, from every aspect of the game,” Hurdle said of their recent struggles. “Every team talks about it. There’s not one team that doesn’t have those conversations about whether you have a positive spur, or you’re heading the wrong way for a sequence of games.”
“What you want to do, whether it’s individually or team specific, it’s the recovery time that’s critical. Better teams have better recovery times. Great teams have really quick recovery times. Mediocre teams take longer to get out of it. It’s kind of what helps define the season, your recovery time because everyone is going to have those spirals where you go in the wrong direction, the at-bats aren’t where you want them to be, the overall team performance is down, pitching, out of the bullpen, whatever it may be. It’s critical for recovery. But the whole game seems to be contagious. Good and bad.”
“We just haven’t played well. From my perspective, we haven’t played consistently well. We’ve been consistently inconsistent. And that’s never a place you want to be.”