With the Pittsburgh Pirates riding a three-game win streak, their first of that length since mid-April, the club still sits within striking distance of the National League Central lead.
As of this writing, the Pittsburgh Pirates sit just four games out of first place, which given the suspensions and injuries this team has dealt with this season they should be very happy with heading into the summer months.
However, you have to wonder if Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle has enough tricks up his sleeve to get this team over the hump.
Hurdle is likely to receive a contract extension sometime during this season or in the offseason. That has been reported by Ken Rosenthal, which means it is pretty much a given, but should it be?
I generally am not a fan of blaming the manager or general manager when things go wrong, but it has been tough to defend Hurdle’s decision making at times and it has cost the Pirates games.
When you are in a close division race, your manager simply can’t be a detriment and while Hurdle is a great motivator, you have to wonder how much better the Pirates can get under his leadership. It’s very likely that this current group peaked in 2015.
This isn’t a fire Hurdle column. That’s not going to happen and if they did, who would the realistically hire to take his place?
Instead this is more of a look at some things that need to be changed for Hurdle to deserve that contract extension that he will ultimately receive.
Throw the Book Away
I hate the fact that Hurdle goes by the book no matter the situation.
While I do like the use of analytics the book provides, I dislike the way Hurdle goes by the book in player management.
There have been far too many instances that have hurt the team this season. His book said Daniel Hudson was the eighth inning guy no matter what. Even though Hudson struggled in the role it took far too long the get Hudson out of the setup role.
The book also said Tony Watson is the closer. Watson only had three perfect ninth innings and something was clearly wrong. Yet the book said to stick with Watson even though the best two relievers on the team- Juan Nicasio and Felipe Rivero– could clearly help close out games.
Both instances cost the team wins.
So did leaving Andrew McCutchen in the three hole despite his two-month slump. Then there is the fact that until recently, Hurdle won’t use a bullpen arm more than one inning unless it is an extra inning game and he is out of arms. I get he doesn’t want to throw guys multiple innings but he is doing his bullpen no justice in the meantime.
Hurdle is committed to going by the book at all cost, yet he rarely plays lefty-righty matchups late in games when it matters.
It’s time to throw that book away and read a different author.
Putting his players in the best spots to have success will win this team games. Despite what the book says.
Play the Best Eight
I know guys need rest and you need to keep your bench guys involved, but Hurdle has to get his best lineup on the field a lot more than he does.
Those are the guys that are going to win games the rest of the way.
It won’t be as the starting catcher. That’s for sure.
Diaz is just one example, but Hurdle needs to start playing his best lineup more often than not. A break here and there to give guys days off is fine, but his best lineup should be on the field more than a couple of times a week.
Trust the Youngsters
Hurdle has never liked to put his trust in young players and that has shown this year.
Diaz is just one example, but he is going to have to start rubbing veterans the wrong way if he has to in order to get talented younger players in the lineup. Josh Bell should be the first baseman for nine innings almost every night. He also treated Adam Frazier with kid gloves, especially when he was hitting the cover off the ball. He also needs to find a way to get Jose Osuna more at bats.
The team is better off with the younger guys in the lineup. That allows a guy like John Jaso to be the first left-handed batter off the bench where he has performed very well.
Hurdle better get used to the youth because there should be more on the way in the next couple of years.
We’ve heard a lot about the Pirates prospects the past couple of years. Hurdle needs to put his trust in these guys. They’ve shown they can contribute.
Hurdle has been hamstrung this season. It’s not easy to scratch out wins on a nightly basis when two of your best bats in Starling Marte and Jung-Ho Kang have been out of the lineup.
That’s a tough chore for any manager.
But ultimately Hurdle has to be judged on his performance on the field.
A 20-game slide from 2015 to 2016 has to be a blimp in the radar and not where this team is heading under Hurdle. He has to show progress this season and currently sitting six games under .500 at the beginning of June doesn’t offer up much hope for him doing so.
If the Pirates truly peaked after the 2015 season and are in a midst of a downward spiral, then Hurdle shouldn’t receive a contract extension. Realistically how much better can things get under his guidance?
He shouldn’t receive an extension based on the fact that he is a great guy. And he is. But if he can start winning games and getting the ship righted, then absolutely he should get one. It needs to be based on wins and losses.
He should just earn it like everyone else.