Wednesday night’s 6-5 Chicago Cubs victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates not only resulted in a sweep but confirmed what has been believed for a while.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are not a playoff team. They have yet to prove otherwise.
This second half has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster for the team, which statistically had the easiest second-half schedule this season.
Recently the Pirates had a 5-1 road trip that transitioned to a return to PNC Park and a 1-5 homestand.
It has been a Jekyll and Hyde performance for a team that is better than that.
This series against these Cubs has been a calamity of errors.
The first loss in my mind is entirely on manager Clint Hurdle. Sweeping a series, especially one of the four-game variety, had to feel great, but at what cost?
Obviously it was too large of a cost as evidenced by the big goose egg in the win column this series, but a lot of the pitchers were deemed unavailable and most that were used were taxed.
You have to feel for Jeff Locke. Forget whether the media defends him too much for some people’s liking, he pitched the best he could but he was set up to fail. Locke was forced to be Plan A and had not pitched with that much length since the beginning of this month.
To borrow from Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price, how does that benefit the Pirates?
Ultimately, the words Locke said to me when he was demoted to a bullpen role were very accurate.
The Pirates view Locke as a pitcher who can be good going through a lineup one time, but after that, it is dicey.
Of course no one can prepare hours earlier for extra innings but the Pirates know the team in the other dugout and have to consider that possibility.
There is not much to pick on Tuesday’s game. The Cubs were far and away the better team, and the Pirates had limited opportunities at best and predictably did not capitalize.
Wednesday’s game resembles a lot of what has occurred this second half.
The Pirates trailed 5-1 and starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (3-4) was out of the game before the sixth inning, something both Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl before his did this series.
In the eighth inning down 6-2, Jordy Mercer doubled in a couple of runs, but he and pinch-runner Alen Hanson each were stranded in scoring position when Josh Bell grounded out to second base.
Aroldis Chapman then struggled to get the final out as he allowed a single to Starling Marte who advanced to third base on two wild pitches and scored on a Francisco Cervelli single.
Another wild pitch advanced Cervelli – the tying run into scoring position – and Sean Rodriguez walked.
It was up to Mercer to tie the game and he battled in an 11-pitch at-bat that included six foul balls before striking out.
For Pirates fans it had to resemble the scripting to a WWE match.
The heel gets off to a strong starts and dominates a match, then the face which in this case would be the Pirates makes an inspired comeback to excite the crowd only to fall short in the end.
After that 4-0 weekend, the Pirates are right back to square one. Again that Brewers series was important, but the Cubs series was vital.
Not only are the Pirates now 3-12 this season against the Cubs, but this is the division leader, and this is a chance for the Pirates to not only make a stronger push for a Wild Card berth, but keep the established momentum.
Now the Pirates are 2.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for a Wild Card spot and at 17.5 games behind the Cubs, they have nearly no chance of that National League Central title.
Too many times this season the Pirates have squandered any and all momentum they have obtained and this is perfect proof of that which cost them two games in the Wild Card race.
Two of these games were very winnable and in the end, this series was a complete loss.
This cannot afford to happen against the NL Central, yet it is happening again.
Currently the Pirates have played seven games out of a 17-game stretch in which the Pirates face NL Central opponents.
The Pirates are currently 25-27 against the NL Central this season.
Is the season lost? Absolutely not, but these kinds of hiccups and inconsistent play cannot continue to happen.
The margin for error is getting slimmer by the game and this is without knowing if Gerrit Cole will return and even be a factor this season.
Thursday may be the most important off-day for the Pirates because another three-game series against the Brewers awaits and something needs to change. If not, this Cubs series was the beginning of the end.
Photo credit: @Pirates