Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Bucs' Veterans Time To Lead Is Now

Chris Mack
April 22, 2018 - 10:33 am

If an 11-4 start wasn’t reason enough to get over excited about the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates, then a 1-5 stretch against the Rockies and Phillies surely isn’t reason enough to get too down.

Something positive needs to happen for the Pirates soon though, especially with a 10-game stretch looming that includes a four game set in Washington and 3-game series bookends against the Cardinals at home and in Milwaukee.

If you’re curious as to whether the veterans who came in this spring disappointed with last year’s clubhouse atmosphere – namely, David Freese, Josh Harrison, and Sean Rodriguez – are going to do anything to re-focus a team that averages just 27.4 years of age, now is the time where you can assess those leadership skills.

The league’s 3rd youngest roster may not need a table-flipping, postgame buffet-destroying Jim Leyland-level tirade, but they need to understand that the quality work they did over the course of the first two weeks can very easily be undone by a skid that isn’t halted before the calendar flips to May.

They need to be reminded that their patient approach at the plate is being exploited by command-based starting pitchers who are getting ahead in the count early and inducing wild, flailing swings at off-speed and breaking junk late in counts. They need to be reminded that 96-98 mph heat out of the bullpen is good – as long as you remember to trust in your own off-speed and breaking stuff. And they need to be reminded that there’s no easier way to lose a ballgame than to ignore the fundamentals of fielding that helped them perform as one of the Top 10 defenses in baseball over the first three weeks.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a little pow-wow to try and get out of it,” said Analyst John Wehner after Saturday’s sloppy, 7-2 loss in Philadelphia. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just like, ‘Well, it’s just one of those games, and we believe we’re good enough, and we’ll just shower it off,’ as they say.”

If the latter is the case, and this club doesn’t quickly address what ails them, there’s a good chance we’ll look back on Saturday, April 21st as the last time the Pirates occupied 1st Place in the N.L. Central and the critics’ and naysayers’ predictions will come true.

If the former happens however, and someone stands up and says “enough is enough,” then perhaps we’ll get to see that the Spring Training criticisms weren’t just lip service and this team truly does believe in their ability to compete over the long haul.