You know how in cartoons when someone would run off a cliff, but they wouldn’t fall until they looked down? The last couple of weeks have been like that for the Bucs.
Obviously, it’s bad news when the most apt analogy for the team I can come up with involves comparing them to Wile E. Coyote, who usually looks like this:
But there’s really no other way to illustrate it: the Bucs played fantastic baseball for a very long time–they held a 96-win pace for half the season. Bad teams do not do that. But they did it in improbable ways. They did it with smoke and mirrors and glue and duct tape and Vance Worley, but they were doing it. The underlying numbers suggested a good team, but those numbers were coming from improbable places. When your team is finding that many diamonds in the rough, it’s hard not to think a few are really cubic zirconia.
So when they inevitably started to fall, it was difficult to know whether or not it was bad luck (a lot of the games were close, and a few you could safely affix the word “blown” to), or just the roadrunners coming home to roost. We played .500 ball for a bit without half our lineup and our best pitcher, which is pretty remarkable. If you combine that with the losing streak, rather than partitioning the two, the cause-and-effect seems a little clearer. We just didn’t look down right away.
Of course, the players themselves are honor-bound not to blame injuries for poor performance. But outside of the kind of competitive bubble that seems to be necessary in dugouts and locker rooms, it’s pretty clear that they do, and that the Pirates have gotten several swift kicks in in the nethers from the ever-fickle Lady Luck. It’s a boring explanation, but it’s probably the right one.
But even after all this, our third order winning percentage is still better than the Cardinals’, and basically identical to the Brewers’. And we’re a couple of games out of a playoff spot with Cutch, Cole, Mercer and Walker back. Pirates fans are down because of sequencing: if we’d been gradually winning more than we lost since our 10-18 start, and being 3 games over .500 was our high water mark, we’d all be thrilled. But because we surged to 9 over and lost it all in one swoop, everybody’s roleplaying as 1929 investment bankers.
This remains a very good team when healthy, a moderately good team when moderately healthy, and a pretty bad team when, like, four of its best five players are missing. The following sentence describes pretty much every contender, by the way.
Most importantly, going forward we shouldn’t have to smash the In-case-of-emergency-break-glass-and-start-Brent-Morel display case too often. In an appropriate and fairly disgusting irony, the bleeding has stopped because we can finally get rid of the scabs.
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