Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 64-57   Pirates 50-70

GAMETIMES: Friday 6:05, Saturday 12:35, Sunday (In Williamsport) 6:10

TV: WGN Friday, ABC 7 Saturday, ESPN Sunday (oh boy)

THE ALREADY DEAD: Bucs Dugout

I can’t decide if it’s better that the Cubs get right back at it tonight at whatever the fuck that was in Philly or if they should have to stew on it for a day, like a child sent to his room. The fear is that whatever hangover/malaise/soul-death is emanating from those three games carries over and the Cubs continue to play like the undead. Which still might be enough against this outfit, as the Pirates have called it a season but keep showing up because it’s mandated. Fuck, both of these teams feel like they’re here this weekend merely because they have to be.

This series takes place in two locations, as Sunday night they’ll decamp for Williamsport to add to The Little League World Series, which in no way has gotten creepy and weird tanks to television and sponsor money. It also could be considered child abuse to make kids watch the Pirates right now.

Because this team is a bloated carcass being poked with a stick some kids found. They’ve gone 11-27 over the past six weeks, put up a 4-18 stretch after the break and clearly just want things to be over. They’re fighting with each other and their coaches. When they’re not doing that they’re fighting with other teams. Or they’re throwing at people, leading to the aforementioned bullshit. In the middle, they suck at actual baseball. Or at least they suck at pitching it.

The offense has been somewhat ok over the last month. Bryan Reynolds and Starling Marte have hit over .330 in that span. Josh Bell has cooled off but can still pop here and there. The rest of the infield is a major issue, as Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, and Adam Frazier are basically taking cardboard up to bat right now. Get through the outfielders and Bell, and this team can’t really hurt you.

The pitching staff is where the fun starts. With Jameson Taillon now down for good and for next year as well, there’s just no frontline starter here. They are “guys” at best, with Chris Archer decomposing in front of everyone’s eyes. The Cubs will see Musgrove, Brault, and Keller, the latter of which has some eye-popping numbers at AAA but is far from the finished product. Brault is just back from the IL and has been getting turned into pudding since. There are no monsters here.

It’s even better in the pen, where everyone hates Felipe Vasquez because he’s actually good and the rest are Kingston coal bags. Michael Feliz has been all right over the past month, but the rest of the crew have hitters sprinting to the plate. And apparently Kyle Crick and Keone Kela are raging assholes that have the rest of the team unable to wait to get to their offseason homes. A very healthy outfit here.

Which should make it the perfect tonic for the Cubs, who haven’t won a road series since there was snow on the ground. If they can’t get it together, no matter the morale, against this collection of fuckwits and dipshits for at least two wins, you can give up hope. The Pirates are begging for it to be over and would just like you to help them along to the back of the barn where they can be put out of their misery.

The Cubs should get Brandon Kintzler back this weekend, and Craig Kimbrel shouldn’t be far behind. It won’t feel good, but take all three from this roadkill and it’s a .500 road trip and you can at least argue it’s a starting point. Otherwise, what the fuck are we even doing here?

Baseball

Everyone knew that when the Pirates were flirting with the top of the division at the beginning portion of the season it was something of an illusion. Even with a healthy Jameson Taillon, and health elsewhere, this was based on Josh Bell’s freak-onomics at the plate and some other blind, dumb, idiot luck. What no one could have expected is that the market correction would be so harsh, so violent, and so complete.

The Pirates have gone 11-27 since July 1. They’ve lost 18 of 22 at one point. They have losing streaks of eight and nine games just in the past three weeks. They have the second-worst record in the National League, with only the we-don’t-even-try Marlins propping them up.

And what’s it’s done is expose rifts, stupidity, and simply indifference at the playing, managerial, front office, and ownership levels. This is a fine mess, and maybe something a real commissioner might feel tempted to do something about. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Just today, The Athletic in Pittsburgh broke a story about how the Bucs have had to suspend two pitchers and one coach for insubordination. This follows their actual brawl with the Reds, caused by the Pirates either encouragement of pitchers throwing at hitters’s heads or their inability to get them to stop, or an unwillingness or lack of motivation to even try. Pitchers and players have openly balked at the Pirates still cutter-heavy teachings and shift-heavy ways, even though they’re one of the worst ground-ball producing pitching staffs in the majors.

Secondly, you can’t lose that many games in that big of a bunch without some players quitting. And yet there’s been little mention of Clint Hurdle being fired, even though he’s got open insubordination and a team that doesn’t seem to care. This runs through the Pirates organization as a whole, as when owner Bob Nutting is reminded he actually owns a baseball team he’s shown loyalty over anything else, though that could just be indifference or laziness to not even wanting to bother.

The Pirates have been unlucky with injuries, as Taillon is headed for a second Tommy John surgery, and the pen can’t seem to keep anyone upright for very long either. But that doesn’t explain it all.

The dysfunction flows upward. Neal Huntington, the GM, doesn’t seem to have worry about his job status much either, and in the interest of fairness he does have his hands tied by strict payroll limits from his owner. Still, this was a team that tried to force Gerrit Cole into their very limited view of how pitchers should work, and then sold low on him to Houston and watched him become perhaps the most dominant starter in the American League. And all that was a result of the Astros just letting him be what he wants. Michael Feliz, Colin Moran, and Joe Musgrove either are or could be nice pieces, but none are defining a team.

But Huntington has always struggled to know what he has. Only Bell has come through the system to be a star under his watch, and that was only this year. Gregory Polanco has flattered to deceive, Taillon is hurt, and he gave up on Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows way early to bring in the husk of Chris Archer. Sure, Glasnow has the same injury problems as Taillon, but Meadows has been a borderline star, and in the outfield where the Pirates are currently sporting Melky Cabrera. And if you’re sporting Melky Cabrera in 2019, you suck. This list could go on.

But the rot starts at the head, and that’s Nutting. There’s no better example of a MLB owner just pocketing his BAMTECH and revenue sharing money and leaving the team he owns to flounder and turn weird colors, but still produce a profit. The Pirates drew over two million fans for five years running, covering both ends of their three wildcard berths stretch. But do you remember the Bucs ever adding to those teams in an ambitious way with a free agent pitcher or hitter they desperately needed to stick with the Cubs and now Brewers? Hey, the Brewers have swung trades for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain and Yasmani Grandal, and they’re the same sized market as Pittsburgh or thereabouts (at least in baseball terms, Milwaukee has nearly twice the population).

Nutting rarely talks to the press, and is heavily guarded when he does. So we have no idea what he thinks. Yet being in Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to hold the Penguins or Steelers back much, even if they exist in leagues with salary caps.

The Pirates have been caught and passed on the field with their once-forward-looking methods, and don’t do much about it. Their front office seems helpless to add anything with the budget they have or to rightly evaluate what’s around. Their owner doesn’t seem to care. It’s rotten in The Iron City.