There Was No Doubt About It

A Pittsburgh Pirates Blog

The Gauntlet, 2016 Edition


06.06.16 Posted by

Every year there’s some big stretch of schedule against quality opposition. I usually refer to it as “The Gauntlet,” and the “The” part is mostly hopeful: I hope that we can say “The” because there only ends up being one. Because it’s hard to survive more than one. And this year, it’s plausible the Pirates don’t even survive the one.

Most of the time The Gauntlet is 12-18 games, maybe half a dozen series’, with a few very good teams and a couple of pretty good ones, and maybe one mediocre or bad one in the mix. This year, it’s not like that: it’s harder and it’s longer. Here are our upcoming opponents, and their current win percentages (I’m excluding our one game makeup against the Rockies):

Team Win %
Mets .564
Cardinals .526
Mets .564
Cubs .709
Giants .593
Dodgers .534
Mariners .554
Athletics .439
Cardinals .526
Cubs .709

That’s 34 games leading up to the break, 30 of which are against teams with a .526 or better winning percentage, basically all of which are either currently in line for a playoff spot, or within a game or two of one. The Bucs play only four games the rest of the first half against an opponent whose run differential is currently worse than theirs. And thanks to that ridiculous Rockies game (where the Bucs have to fly to Colorado for one game after a home series, then immediately fly back for another home series), there’s only one off day until June 30th.

This isn’t exactly happening at the best time, either: Liriano is falling apart (though this is probably offset by the significant improvements of Niese and Locke), Tony Watson still doesn’t seem quite right, and the Bucs have a lot of guys nursing day-to-day injuries.

One silver lining is that, with the lack of off days, the fact that it’s June, and Nicasio’s struggles, there’s virtually no chance we won’t have seen Jameson Taillon’s major league debut two weeks from now. And while you can’t and shouldn’t expect strong results from him immediately (just as a rookie, nevermind the two-year layoff), he won’t have to be that good to be better than what we have right now.

One other thing to consider is that June has been McCutchen’s best month throughout his career (followed closely by July): as the weather heats up, so does Cutch. He’s hit more homers in July, but he’s hit a ridiculous number of doubles in June: 26% more than in any other month, on a per-game basis.

It’s easy to imagine Cutch heating up, the offense being one giant wrecking ball in June, Taillon representing a significant upgrade over Nicasio, and Nicasio in turn stabilizing the bullpen a bit more. And it’s not difficult to imagine Liriano being better, given what a low bar that is to clear. And if all or even most of those things happen, the Bucs can come out of June still in the thick of things. But it’s just as easy to imagine most of them not happening and the Pirates digging themselves a huge hole, and the team entering July something like 12 games out of the division and several games out of the Wild Card, too.

I genuinely don’t know what to expect from this team. I think the things it’s good at it’s probably actually good at, and I think the things it’s bad at are plausibly fixable, so on this particular day, I still think this is something like a 90-win team that should be in the Wild Card hunt. But there’s a lot of potential variance here with Taillon and Liriano in particular, and the bullpen looks dramatically different if Watson isn’t right.

To this point it’s been easy to talk about what this team is at the moment, while understanding that it was probably going to look very different as we approach the second half (and beyond). But in a couple of weeks, the Pirates will take some big steps towards becoming the team they were going to be, and whatever they are after those call-ups and playing time tweaks is what they’re probably going to be in the second half. Pretty soon, there won’t be any more forward-looking caveats. After this stretch, we’re going to have a pretty good idea of what kind of team this is.


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