A much needed day off for the Bucs

The Pirates will be off on Thursday for the first time since August 2nd. The 20 games in 20 days stretch included an important series in Cincinnati, an 11 game homestand, and a discouraging roadtrip. Here’s a rundown of what went on over the past three weeks:

– A crazy weekend ensued in Cincy with a bit of beanball between the Reds and Bucs. However, the Redlegs were the only ones doing the drilling. Andrew McCutchen was nailed high and tight with an Aroldis Chapman heater that was clocked at 101 mph during the Reds’ 3-0 victory. There was much debate over whether or not the Pirates would retaliate, but they never received a chance. Both clubs were warned after Josh Harrison was plunked by Mike Leake, and Clint Hurdle was ejected when he came out to argue. Cincinnati went on to win that game, 5-4. The teams were apparently warned before Sunday’s game, so A.J. Burnett didn’t have a chance to hit any Cincy hitters. Instead, he allowed just three hits over 8.2 innings and the Bucs won 6-2. They weren’t at their best in this series; thankfully they avoided a sweep.

– The Pirates split a four game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks, which was a tough start to a disappointing homestand. Despite a 4-0 victory in game one, the bullpen fell apart in the second game of the series. A 4-4 tie turned into a 10-4 defeat when the D-backs scored seven unanswered runs in the final two innings. They held on by a sliver to win on Wednesday, but dropped the fourth game in Wandy Rodriguez‘s poor home debut.

– The San Diego Padres rolled into the ‘Burgh for what turned out to be an embarrassing series. The Buccos cruised to a 7-1 lead on Friday, but watched it fall to pieces as the Friars came back and won, 9-8. A.J. Burnett wasn’t sharp in game two and the Pirates were almost no-hit by Jason Marquis. They pulled off a win on Sunday afternoon, thanks to a grand slam for Clint Barmes. More on the Padres in a bit.

– The next series was a forgettable one vs. Los Angeles. The first three games were downright awful; the Pirates were outscored 25-7. The offense carried the Bucs to a 10-6 victory on Thursday. Don Mattingly, Matt Kemp, and Joe Blanton were all ejected, and A.J. Burnett told Hanley Ramirez what to do. The series loss was a bitter finish to a 4-7 homestand.

– Things were looking up after the Bucs took two of three from the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. James McDonald returned to his first half form in Friday’s win, but they lost a very winnable game on Saturday. The series finale was a 19 inning marathon that resulted in a 6-3 victory. Many believed that this could be a positive turning point; the exact opposite of last year’s 19 inning affair. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case…

– … as the Bucs were swept by the Padres at Petco Park. We won’t go into detail as it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. Quite possibly the most frustrating series of the season.

Some fresh faces: Jeff Locke appeared in a few games, Yamaico Navarro came back, Jose Tabata returned to the big league club, Justin Wilson and Kyle McPherson made their MLB debuts, and Daniel McCutchen was recalled.

Some injuries: Starling Marte went on the 15 day DL with a strained oblique, Neil Walker dislocated a finger, Travis Snider was bothered by his hamstring, Jordy Mercer was hit in the hand with a pitch, etc.

Some departures: Alex Presley was optioned to Indianapolis, Juan Cruz was designated for assignment, etc.

Some leaves of absence: Jordy Mercer went on paternity leave and Chad Qualls went on the bereavement list.

One of the biggest storylines is the current slide of Andrew McCutchen. He was hitting .373 heading into this stretch, but is now down to .349. In these 20 games, McCutchen hit .238 with 2 homers, 10 runs batted in, and 21 strikeouts. The team goes as Cutch goes, and he certainly hasn’t been performing. As a result, the Pirates were just 7-13 in this span. He seems to be trying to pull the ball too much; he was successfully using all fields earlier in the year. He’s been striking out more frequently as well. McCutchen was essentially carrying this team earlier in the year, but his struggles in this stretch of games really showed. He’s still an MVP candidate, but he needs to snap out of it if the Bucs want to succeed for the rest of the season.

The Pirates needed this off day in the worst way. As we said, they went 7-13 in these 20 games – not the kind of baseball you want to see from a team that’s fighting for a postseason berth. They’re still a little beat up, and it can’t be easy playing 20 days in a row, especially with a six-hour, 19 inning game in the mix. The bad news is that they’ve officially fallen from a playoff spot. St. Louis has passed the Bucs for the second wild card, and they sit 8.5 games out of first in the Central. They come home for a six-game homestand against the Brewers and Cardinals. Hopefully PNC Park is rocking and the Pirates can rack up some wins.

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to excellence.”

#PackPNC. Go Bucs.

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