Why the Road Ahead is Bleak for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY The Pittsburgh Pirates stumbled out of the gate and have played to a 3-6 record after the first three series of the season, and things aren't looking up for the team. They return home April 12 to play the first match of a 10-game homestand against three teams that all made the playoffs last year. The game Friday also kicks off a stretch of 20 consecutive games running until May 2, the team's next off day.

The Pirates have only managed to win 33 percent of the games they've played so far and that number is about to get worse, barring a miraculous showing by the team. The Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves are all coming to PNC Park, teams that are indisputably better than the Pirates so far this season, statistically speaking.

On the surface, the Reds and the Cardinals might not seem so dominant. Both teams sport a 5-4 record after all, only two games better than the Pirates. But their lineups are full of power and offensive potential the Pirates can't touch. Two of three upcoming series also have the added importance of being divisional contests.

It's important to remember how poor the Pirates offense has been so far this year. The team has compiled a .153 batting average through nine games, only scoring 21 runs and hitting two home runs in the process.

The pitching staff has actually exceeded expectations so far in pitching to a 3.86 earned run average, despite the fact that Jonathan Sanchez is still a part of the rotation. Those numbers likely won't get any better in the coming weeks.

First up are the Reds, a team many expect will repeat as division champions this year. With a lineup littered with sluggers like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce backed up by pitching from Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman, it's not a risky prediction. The team so far has batted to a .253 average with 52 runs scored and 12 home runs, numbers all substantially better than the Pirates.

The Reds' pitching staff isn't a whole lot better than the Pirates so far, only sporting a 3.81 earned run average. But with the way the Pirates have been (not) hitting the ball, that number is primed to go down.

The only silver lining heading into this first series is that the Reds haven't scored a run in 14 innings, only scoring one run in the past two games, both losses to the Cardinals. But that streak is also likely to end soon: The Reds will face both Jeff Locke and likely a spot starter from Triple-A Indianapolis during this weekend series. Not exactly pitching that instills fear in opposing batters. On the other hand, the Pirates are slated to face both Cueto and Matt Latos, pitchers who both sport a sub-3.00 earned run average.

Next up is a three-game stint with the Cardinals, a team that put up 19 runs during a home series against the Reds. The team has recorded a .264 batting average on its way to scoring 56 runs with 9 home runs, numbers that far exceed those of the Pirates. The Cardinals' pitching staff, however, isn't much better than the Pirates, statistically speaking. The team has a 3.69 ERA with 36 walks issued so far, five more than the Buccos. Regardless, St. Louis always seems to play the Pirates hard and, with a far superior offense, should have no problem taking the series in Pittsburgh.

Finally, the team ends its grueling homestand by playing the 8-1 Atlanta Braves, the same team that has hit both 15 home runs so far and has pitched to a 1.89 ERA. The four-game series against Atlanta is still more than a week away, plenty of time for either team to slump or break out. But for a team with sluggers and hurlers that's compiled the best record in baseball, it seems at this point that the Pirates don't stand a chance.

Hopefully that's not the case for the rest of the season.

Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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