It's only July. It's only July. It's only July.
That's what I keep telling myself in order to try and fight off the panic that's on the rise in regards to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team is still second in the NL Central and lead the Wild Card by five and a half games, but they've lost three in a row to the division rival Cincinnati Reds and seven of the past 10 total.
What's alarming is the hitting is just not coming around. Other than Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, the whole team seems to be in a slump. After being one of the best hitters in baseball in June, Pedro Alvarez has two hits in his last 22 at bats. Garrett Jones has one hit against lefties this year, which results in him being subbed out in favor of pinch hitter Michael McKenry in a key situation last night. That is the same McKenry who has all of three hits since May 30 (42 at bats).
Last night was the perfect example of why I'm terrified of another late-summer collapse by the Pirates. The starting pitching wasn't great. AJ Burnett gave up 10 hits and five runs (only two were earned). The defense ended up costing the team runs instead of saving them, which has rarely been the case this season. So that meant the offense had to make up for the off days of the pitching and defense. Well, the Pirates' bats responded with leaving 12 men on base and going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
The worst was the ninth inning when the team had runners on first and third with no one out in a one-run game. That's two chances where a ground ball to the right side of the infield or a moderate to deep fly out would score a run. The results were a pop up and two strike outs.
Changes need to be made to this team now. Brandon Inge is so bad, McKenry is being used in pinch hitting situations before him. Why is he still on the roster if he is basically unusable? Being a nice guy in the club house doesn't win ball games. Ask Jack Wilson about that. Josh Harrison isn't much better, but he's still better than Inge and deserves that roster spot.
Tony Sanchez should be called up to replace McKenry. I get that the organization wants Sanchez to keep developing and play every day in AAA, but if he hit only .250 off the bench, he'd be a huge improvement over McKenry.
The team will need to do more than makes moves within the organization. A trade or two need to be made. I'm not talking about a major one that would cost a top prospect, I'm talking about minor moves that could shore up the bench. Pittsburgh is 20th in the league in pinch hitting batting average at .204. They need help.
Pitching certainly wins championships, but you still need to score runs. The Pirates were averaging 3.83 runs per game heading into last night's game. Between 2010 and last season, the lowest amount of runs per game for an NL playoff team was 4.13. Now that is only one season with the second wild card spot, so we might see that number come down over the next few years. But still, it's pretty obvious this team isn't scoring runs lately, and it could cost them the playoffs.