With the Pittsburgh Pirates seemingly in free fall, who is the most to blame for their late summer collapse?
As I write this, the Pittsburgh Pirates are getting blasted by the not-so-good Phillies 5-1. Gerrit Cole‘s comeback start did not go as the team had hoped, and if the Pirates don’t come back, the team will have lost four in a row, and 11 out of their last 13 games. Some are going so far as to call this The Collapse 3. This collapse, while it doesn’t feel as crushing as the first two back in 2011 and 2012, is certainly disheartening. Before that first loss to start this collapse back on August 29th, the Pirates had just swept the Brewers in Milwaukee in a four-game series and had moved to within just a half-game of a Wild Card spot. Then Tony Watson blew a game against the Cubs, and all went downhill from there.
Just because expectations were lower heading into this season doesn’t mean that management, the front office, and the players shouldn’t be held accountable for what has transpired here in September and this season. Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle’s jobs almost assuredly aren’t in jeopardy, but they have both made their fair share of mistakes. Andrew McCutchen isn’t to blame for the entire offense going cold, but his performance this season has brought his future with Pittsburgh into question (although for the record I think he starts the 2017 season with the Pirates). Who deserves the blame for this collapse?
The first fingers will probably point towards ownership. But after that, most will throw the blame at Neal Huntington, and he certainly deserves some of it. For one, he failed to address the biggest and most glaring need this off-season in the rotation with much more than a patchwork fix. Jon Niese was going to be nothing more than a back-end starter when he was brought in, Juan Nicasio was a big project at best, and Jeff Locke should have been gone ages ago. You can’t expect to compete with the rotations sported by the Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Nationals, and Mets with a rotation made up of three number-five starters.
This failing to improve the rotation put the Pirates in the scratch-and-claw position they found themselves in in August. Huntington also traded away Mark Melancon, and we’ve all seen how Tony Watson has adapted to the closer’s role. Yes, Huntington has made some nice additions (Ivan Nova, David Freese, etc.), but his lack of additions in the off-season have hurt the Pirates more than the additions have helped them this season.
Clint Hurdle hasn’t been terrible this year. Haters of Hurdle will continue to hate him, but he hasn’t been much different than in year’s past. However, his decision to keep Watson in the closer position for as long as he has has not been a good one. For a team trying to make the playoffs, Hurdle has to be willing to adapt and change and do anything possible to spark the team to success. That means moving Felipe Rivero or Neftali Feliz to the closer role and maybe returning to Watson next season.
Hurdle also has to be more willing to bench McCutchen, who is having a terrible season. Give Josh Bell more time in the outfield. Be willing to do something drastic. One of Hurdle’s biggest faults is his sticking with players for too long, and it hasn’t helped the Pirates much this season.
But don’t let the players escape without blame, namely McCutchen. Gerrit Cole has also had a poor follow-up to his great 2015 campaign. But one player does not a team make, and while some players have under-performed, others have exceeded expectations. So it ends up balancing out for the most part.
Many have said that Huntington’s moves at the deadline left the players on the team in shock. And so we come full circle. Many people deserve blame for the way this season has gone and for this recent collapse, and I can’t assign more blame to any one party. But I am particularly disappointed in Neal Huntington. All he needed to do was add one decent arm to this rotation in the off-season, but instead of giving $10 or $15 million to one quality arm, he decided to allot that money to multiple sub-par arms in Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. That was not what the Pirates needed. Unfortunately, what’s done is done, and Huntington, Hurdle, McCutchen, and the rest of the team will have to learn from their mistakes and shortcomings. At this point, hoping these issues can be fixed may have to wait until the off-season.
Photo Credit – Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons