LOS ANGELES — After dismantling the Los Angeles Dodgers in two of three games in late April, the Pittsburgh Pirates had won nine of 10 and were atop the National League with an 18-8 record.
But on Thursday, the Pirates found themselves in a 2-0 hole after the Dodgers’ first two hits, and more importantly, now seven games under .500 after losing three of four to Los Angeles in their pre-All-break. Star. revenge.
“We played really well against a good team,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of the series after Thursday’s 5-2 loss, Pittsburgh’s third loss in four games at Dodger Stadium. “We just haven’t finished the games.”
The Pirates quickly tied Thursday’s game in the second inning on Nick Gonzales’ two-run double against Dodgers starter Julio Urías, but didn’t provide an offense after that. Urías struck out eight in six innings and the Pirates got just one hit from the Dodgers’ bullpen.
Max Muncy broke the tie 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two-run homer off starter Johan Oviedo, and Mookie Betts scored on Freddie Freeman’s seventh-inning single for Freeman’s third RBI in the night following its two points. home run in the first inning.
Since their first meeting in April, these two teams have gone in opposite directions. The Dodgers, who were 13-13 at the time, then went on a surge that put them 11 games above .500 and less than a game behind the league-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. division. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is 22-39 since the series, enduring a troublesome streak that has included seven-game and 10-game losing streaks.
After back-to-back 100-loss campaigns, in a vacuum it would be fair to characterize the Pirates’ 40-47 mark with three games until the All-Star break as a success, but the blistering start that painted them as The Pleasant surprise of 2023 reset expectations and made their demise particularly disappointing.
However, given that Pittsburgh has the fourth-youngest roster in MLB according to ESPN, perhaps the nature of its season should come as no surprise.
“I think [finding consistency] is the next step to closing those gaps,” 19-year-old veteran starting pitcher Rich Hill said before the game. “The streak is part of youth [on the roster]and I really attribute it to that.
While the past few months have been undeniably frustrating for the Pirates, there seems to be no giving up or feeling of panic, especially from veterans like Hill and Andrew McCutchen. Instead, they said they take these growing pains as normal with such a young team.
“When we had the losing month, it was like, ‘OK, now you understand it’s not going to be easy,'” McCutchen, a longtime hacker, said before the game regarding the maturation process his team suffered. “You’re not just going to show up every day and win a football game.”
Despite the struggles, McCutchen and Hill expressed optimism that the Pirates are close to breaking their funk, with McCutchen noting “it’s better to have been through it now than in August and September.”
“Losing that nickname or that definition [of being a non-contender] of the last two seasons is something I can see happening in this locker room,” Hill said before the game. “Hopefully in the second half we turn it on and have the opportunity to make the playoffs.”
And despite putting themselves in a hole, the playoffs are still within reach for the Pirates, who are now 7.5 games from a wildcard spot. They’ve proven capable of playing at playoff level and have a well-deserved break to regroup on the horizon, but the key for the second half will be finding some consistency. Luckily, the Pittsburgh manager thinks there’s an easy way to do just that.
“It’s about emphasizing that this is a baseball game,” Shelton said before Thursday night’s game. “Don’t let all the outside stuff take that away.”