It is no secret that the Pittsburgh Pirates have had the wind taken out of their sails over the last few weeks. Since the All-Star break, the Pirates are 17-16 and have fallen six games behind first place Cincinnati in the NL Central Division. In 2011, the Pirates completely collapsed after the All-Star break, going 11-22 in their first 33 games for comparison.
This 2012 team is a completely different team and is no going to have a monumental collapse similar to last season’s edition. Since that is now cleared up, lets break down why the Pirates are not having success in the second half similar to the first half.
It all comes down to pitching with this Pirates team, as the starting staff and bullpen have not been performing up to the standards needed. Before the All-Star break, Pirates starters ranked fourth in ERA at 3.47. In 33 games since the break, the Pirates starting staff ranks 12th with a 4.55 ERA.
This rotation is one of the more complicated situations the Pirates have had to deal with in some time, as they now have six big league starters, but five spots and really only three effective starters since the break (Burnett, Karstens, Bedard).
There is no quick fix for the rotation, as the only way it will be fixed at all is by the current starters performing better. The Pirates traded for veteran starter Wandy Rodriguez in hopes of solidifying the rotation, but in his four starts since coming over, has a 5.47 ERA.
James McDonald continues to struggle, as he boasts an 8.71 ERA in six starts since the break. Erik Bedard (3.90 ERA) and Jeff Karstens (3.89) have been adequate since the break, but A.J. Burnett needs more help.
Bottom line for the rotation is, the current starters the Pirates have are the starters they are going to battle with the rest of the season and they simply need to pitch better.
There are many questions surrounding the bullpen’s performance of late, but unlike the starting rotation, the Pirates have answers to these questions. The Pirates pen is struggling mightily and with help waiting in the wings at AAA Indianapolis, it would be foolish to not tap into those arms.
The bullpen has been dominant all season until recently, with the following splits.
March/April- 2.94 ERA
May- 2.55 ERA
June- 2.86 ERA
July- 2.73 ERA
August- 5.82 ERA
As of August 2nd, the bullpen ranked second in the NL with a 2.81 ERA. In the two weeks since then, the Pirates have seen their bullpen ERA raise to 3.10. Over the last 30 days, the bullpen’s ERA is 4.54 and has been absolutely miserable the past 14 days with a 5.71 ERA.
Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli are the only members of the bullpen that should have complete job security at this point. Jared Hughes and Juan Cruz would be next in line, as they both have had good seasons.
Cruz was dominant early in the season, as he did not allow a run through his first 12 appearances. If Cruz can return to his dominant April/May form, his veteran presence will go a long way down the stretch for this team.
Jared Hughes has been very versatile in his rookie season, pitching 56.2 innings out of the bullpen with a 2.70 ERA. Hughes has been used in long relief and in the sixth and seventh innings at times and that versatility is needed for this pennant race.
Post All-Star Break
Tony Watson– 4.97 ERA
Chris Resop– 5.79 ERA
Chad Qualls– 7.94 ERA
At this point in the season, there is no need to stick with Watson, Resop and Qualls when there are more than capable options in AAA. Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke and Chris Leroux are all having great seasons and while not all are relievers, are more than capable to help this team out down the stretch.
As of last week, the left-handed Wilson was moved to the bullpen and it seems as if he’s destined for Pittsburgh to take Tony Watson’s spot as the southpaw in the pen. Bryan Morris has pitched 71.2 innings in relief this season with a 2.64 ERA for Indianapolis in 2012. Morris is logical candidate to take a spot away from the struggling Qualls.
Jeff Locke, a starter by trade, recently was demoted by the Pirates after making two dominant appearances for the team without allowing a run. Pirates management does not want to use Locke as a starter, but Locke still seems to be a logical choice to fill a bullpen spot on the playoff roster.
Pirates management does not have many avenues to pursue when attempting to rectify this recent stretch of abysmal baseball. The only aspect of the team that can be corrected in a quick manner is the bullpen. GM Neal Huntington’s resume shows that he is well versed at putting together a dominant bullpen and it is now time once again Neal.