When the Pirates were in first place just 3 weeks ago, the enthusiasm was through the roof. Now that the Bucs are 10.5 games out of first place and falling off the face of the Earth, people are scrambling for answers. Here are three popular reasons people are throwing around for why the Pirates are suddenly playing like ... the Pirates.
1) The Schedule. There's no question that the Pirates have had a brutal schedule during their recent 4-16 stretch (Cardinals, Braves, Phillies, and Giants, with the Brewers and Cardinals coming up next). But they also got swept by the Cubs (.422 winning %) and were outscored 11,465 to 7 by the Padres (.436 winning %). No one was blaming the schedule when the Pirates went 6-4 against the Nats, Astros and Cubs at the beginning of July.
2) Clint Hurdle. In the past 20 games, the Pirates have lost 3 in extra innings, and had we stayed up to watch, we may have found reasons to question some of the moves that Clint Hurdle made in those games. But it isn't Hurdle's fault that the Pirates have virtually no power at the bat or on the mound -- 23rd in homeruns (and falling), and an astounding 28th in strikeouts. Managing is a lot easier if the Pirates don't go 17 innings in a row without scoring during the infamous 19-inning loss to the Braves.
3) Jerry Meals. Speaking of that game, some have started saying that Jerry Meals' brutal call at home plate has somehow jinxed the Pirates and caused their downward spiral (the Pirates are 2-13 since that game). If this is the actual reason for the Pirates' downfall, it's also the most disturbing. When a historically bad call happens, good teams move on. Bad teams feel sorry for themselves and file a formal complaint with the MLB that serves no purpose other than to provide an outlet to whine. Selig wasn't reversing the ending of the game so harping on it for several days like the organization did served only to foster a "man, aren't we unlukcy" mentality. Of course MLB knew the call was bad -- they didn't need the Pirates to remind them.
Though we are optimistic about the future, we have to remember: These are the Pirates. Our walls will stay up.