Wind (Temporarily?) Out of Pirates Sails

Since I wrote my euphoric blog “Shiver Me Timbers, the Bucs Are in First Place”the Pittsburgh Pirates have come unwound, both as a team and individually.

Ironically, six weeks ago when the Pirates were baseball’s darling, MLB on Fox and ESPN eagerly signed them up for their national games of the week.

So, on August 13, when Fox’s Josh Lewin introduced the Pirates-Milwaukee Brewers game, he hung a lot of crepe. Basically saying that the Pirates had gone straight into the tank since Fox committed to the Brewers game as well as the August 20 contest against the Cincinnati Reds, Lewin reminded pained viewers that no team in major league history has gone from first place to ten games out in less time than the Corsairs. By Sunday night, Lewin had proven prophetic. The Brewers swept the three game series against the Pirates and moved to 36-3 against the Bucs in their last 39 games.

Luckily for Fox, the Saturday game turned out to be a good one. To the Pirates’ fans frustration, however, the Buccos lost 1-0 and scratched out three lonely hits—only one of which came during the five innings tossed by Brewers’ emergency starter Marco Estrada (3-7).

An interesting strategic moment came in the top of the ninth. The Brewers had summoned closer John Axford. The first Pirates’ batter, Xavier Paul, tripled. At that point, the pressure is on Axford—he’s protecting a one run lead with a runner on third, no one out.

The next two batters, Andrew McCutchen (hitting about .200 since the All Star Game) and Matt Diaz (.265 but no home runs in 200+ at bats) both swung at the first pitch. Results: two ground outs, McCutchen to shortstop; Diaz to second. Although there are 25 ways to score from third (read them here), the Pirates couldn’t push across the tying run.

Ted Williams must have been spinning in his grave. The Pirates should have heeded Williams’ long standing advice about swinging at the first pitch: Don’t! In his book, The Science of Hitting, Williams wrote that when a batter faces a pitcher for the first time during a game, as McCutchen and Diaz did with Axford, he should take a pitch or two to evaluate the pitcher’s stuff.

I understand the counter logic. Batters don’t want to fall behind 0-1 or 0-2. And they’re often coached to be aggressive, to look for a pitch they like and to take their cuts.But here are two things I also know. First, when it comes to batting philosophy, I’ll listen to Williams before anyone. Second, the Saturday game ended with the Pirates stranding the tying run on third before losing by a single run. Swinging at the first pitch may work some of the time—but it didn’t that day.In the meantime, through games played Monday night, the Pirates have fallen to fourth place, 13 games behind the Brewers and losers of 14 of their last 18.

One Reply to “Wind (Temporarily?) Out of Pirates Sails”

  1. The bursting of the Pirates’ bubble is not a phenomenon unique to them; indeed, it is a time-established characteristic of “flash in the pan,” teams in all sports whose energy and talent are not persistent. The key to success, noted by one of America’s great presidents, Calvin Cooldige, under whose administration there was the last Federal surplus at the end of the fiscal year, wrote this, and it can be applied to the Pirates:
    Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with genius. Education will not; the world is filled with educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, “Press on” has solved and will solve the problems of the human race.”
    And, I might add, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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