As their season spirals out of control, the Pittsburgh Pirates know they can count on one constant: win or lose, the games will be close.
And they will lose a lot of them.
The Pirates (45-70) have had 70 games decided by two runs or fewer but have won just 29 (41.4%) of the close contests. Of the last 21 games, 16 have been decided by two runs or fewer; Half of those were decided by one run, including Sunday’s 8-7 loss in San Francisco.
“I think every day that we go into the game (knowing the game), we play more close games, two-run games than anyone else in baseball,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said on Sunday’s pregame show by AT&T SportsNet. “My plan is that every day will be a game that we find ourselves in. We have to find ways to get more runs.”
Most importantly, the pirates must find ways to win the tight matches. Of their 75 games since May 23, 52 (69.3%) have been decided by two runs or fewer. That includes 34 of their 46 losses in that span and all three losses in the Giants’ three-game sweep.
Shelton has tried to play into the tight results positively, saying it shows signs of a struggle from a team that has relied heavily on rookies. The pirates learn to have short memories, find new ways to make up for the bad losses and move on to the next game.
“It’s behind us,” Pirate aide Wil Crowe said Sunday after giving up a two-run walk-off home run to Thairo Estrada at the end of the ninth race. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
After going 8-2 on their 10-game road trip, the Pirates return to PNC Park for a nine-game homestand that began Tuesday with three games each against the Boston Red Sox (57-59), the Cincinnati Reds (45:68) begins. and defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves (70-46).
The Pirates have played 28 of their last 47 games at home, where they’ve fared far better (0.453 win ratio) than away (0.344).
The Pirates are 17-18 in one-run games this season. Reverse their record in close games – going 41-29 instead of 29-41 – and they’d be pushing .500 and staying in wildcard contention if they weren’t fighting for the title in an NL Central, baseball’s worst division.
Their tally doesn’t reflect the injuries the Pirates have sustained this season. At one point they had five regulars on the injured list and started a lineup with a handful of rookies.
Trading their RBIs leader in designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach and most consistent starting pitcher in left-hander Jose Quintana didn’t help, nor did the recent lack of performers. On the 10-game road trip to Baltimore, Arizona and San Francisco, the Pirates were without All-Star closer David Bednar (back) and lost rookie assist Yerry De Los Santos for the remainder of the season to a shoulder injury. They played the Giants series without third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (back spasms), who stays on from the day.
But, as Crowe said, the results are what they are.
It didn’t help that the Pirates went 16 innings in the Giants series without a goal, including a stretch where they went 0-20 with runners in goal position. Even after bouncing back from a five-run deficit on Sunday thanks to a game-changing performance from Bryan Reynolds, who snatched a five-rbi game from a 7-for-34 funk, the Pirates still found a way to lose.
“It was hard work, but we showed what we were made of,” said Reynolds, who won 3-on-4 with a two-run double and a three-run homer. “We always come in and fight. We just didn’t make it.”
If the fight is a sign of improvement, it doesn’t show up in the overall rating. The Pirates slipped to last place in the NL Central, a full game behind a Reds team that started the season 3-22. After 61-101 last year, the Pirates are on track with 63 wins this season.
“We’re in a lot of games,” Shelton said. “We play a lot of close games and you saw the fight out of them. They keep fighting. With a young group we need to make sure that we perform pieces and finish pieces. We have to get better at that.”
The pirates know they can’t get much worse.