By John Perrotto
It seemed inconceivable six weeks ago.
There was no way in the world that the Pirates were going to have yet another losing season, not when they were 16 games over .500 at 63-47 on Aug. 8. Surely, their streak of 19 consecutive sub-.500 seasons — the longest such skid in the annals of major North American professional sports — was going to end this year.
Yet the Pirates are 74-74 as they go into today’s late-afternoon game with the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. They are back at .500, a mark that seemed to be in their rear view mirror for good, for the first time since June 2 when they were 26-26.
The Pirates have gone 11-27 since reaching their high-water mark 43 days ago. They have also last 14 of their last 18 games and 20 of their last 27.
They need to go 8-6 to finish with a winning record and 7-7 to avoid a losing mark.
“Do you honestly think we have eight wins left in us?” one veteran Pirates player asked Wednesday night in the quiet clubhouse after a 3-1 loss to the Brewers.
It sure doesn’t look that way. The Pirates have won just eight times in their last 28 games.
Of course, trying to somehow win the second National League wild card now looks a monumental struggle. The Pirates are now 4 1/2 games off St. Louis’ pace.
Cue up the Jim Mora “Playoffs?!?!” video.
The Pirates aren’t talking much about the playoffs. They aren’t saying much about finishing above .500, either. They just want to get to playing respectable baseball.
“We haven’t played well. It’s been a while,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “So, you know, we had earned the position we were in before; we’ve earned this position as well. The season’s 162 games for a reason. And we’ve talked about finishing from the start of spring training. We’ve got to find ways to finish _ continue to work, continue to play, continue to trust and get something done on the field.”
The biggest question now is whether the Pirates have any fight left. They look like a beaten-down bunch, though Hurdle believes the Pirates’ problem is one of execution rather than desire.
“If you want more, you gotta do more,” Hurdle said. “Everybody in there wants more, I want more, we’ve got to do more to get more.”
Yet the Pirates don’t seem to know how to do more as the losses keep piling up. They are in the type of rut that has left everyone scratching their heads, including right-hander Jeff Karstens.
“You know the effort’s there from every single guy,” Karstens said. “A lot of the media, a lot of the fans, a lot of those people don’t see it, because they’re not here every day. I get to see these guys come to work every day and it’s definitely not the effort. It’s just we swing, we hit the ball, it’s right at guys. We score runs, they score more than us. We don’t pitch well, we don’t score. You know, that’s just the way it’s been going for us. It’s not time for excuses, it’s time to strap up your cleats and play the game.”