The reason why there is a meeting should not be too hard to figure out. June, which had been the Pirates’ best month since Clint Hurdle took over, has been a death march.
Perhaps “death march” doesn’t do it justice. Losers of nine out of their last 10 after being swept by the Cubs, the Bucs looked stagnant, and the idea of them being sellers at the deadline for the first time since 2010 began crossing people’s minds.
A lot of the slump has to do with the competition they have faced. The Marlins got off to a hot start and have been able to jump into second in the NL East. The Cardinals, Cubs and Mets are all good teams. Now it’s the Giants, only to be followed by the Dodgers. They have had to face Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard twice to go along with Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner and Jon Lester already, and there’s still Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw waiting later in the week.
Not to absolve them of any blame, but once you mix in the fact that they are down their ace and are one step away from scouting slow-pitch beer softball leagues for catchers, you can see why June was going to be rough. Nobody expected it to be this rough, though.
And even though they were 4-14 in June entering play Monday, the season is long from over. The 2014 Pirates started 35-38 and made the playoffs. Ever since the addition of a second wild card, no National League team has won 88 games and missed the playoffs. They now sit at 34-36, meaning that they will need to go 54-38 (a .587 winning percentage) to reach the magic number. That’s reasonable, but they need to stop digging a hole for themselves.
“Every game is important to us. We have to make games relevant now to be relevant in September,” Chris Stewart said.
Monday could be the day the Pirates look back on as the turning point. The Giants, the hottest team in baseball, had their ace on the hill and looked poised to tee off against Jeff Locke, who was coming off of two of the worst starts of his career.
Instead, Hurdle got the type of win he knew his team was capable of and needed.
“That’s how we get this thing turned around: a complete game,” Hurdle said. “Not a complete game from the pitcher, but a complete game from the team.”
And it was a complete game. Jeff Locke pitched well, the defense made several great plays- including a game saving double play by Gregory Polanco on a running grab- the bullpen faced the minimum and the offense got the big hit on Erik Kratz’s home run. It was vintage 2013-2015 Pirates baseball.
The June gauntlet is still before them, but if the Pirates can keep their head above water until Cervelli returns and the schedule gets easier after the All-Star break, they can save the season.