Pirates' epic plunge continues with 14-2 loss

With terrible pitching, hitting, defense, is this their worst team ever?

CHICAGO -- These Pirates are on a course to prove conclusively that they, and not some predecessors, are the worst team in the franchise's 124 years.

Bar none.

There is the terrible starting pitching, the latest being Paul Maholm's eight runs on nine hits, a walk and a hit batsman over 3 1/3 innings in a red-faced 14-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs Monday night at Wrigley Field. That, amazingly, was the exact same pitching line Charlie Morton had Sunday in Milwaukee.

"Just frustrating," Maholm said.

There is the terrible hitting, too, the latest being a six-hit output and the standard two runs, most of the offense coming after the Cubs had put up two touchdowns.

There is the terrible defense, the latest being more of the circuitous outfield routes, missed cutoff men, errant throws and a muffed popup, all of which raised audible laughter from the 29,538 on hand.

There is the terrible baserunning, the latest being Andrew McCutchen anchoring himself to first base through two batters, 14 pitches and 11 minutes during the first inning when a steal would have resulted in a run.

There is the terrible lack of accountability, with no significant, visible action by manager John Russell beyond some daily meetings of late, and not one member of the baseball operations staff accompanying the team on this six-game road trip. General manager Neal Huntington has been scouting the minor-league affiliates.


Game: Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs, 8:05 p.m., Wrigley Field.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).

Pitching: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-10, 4.98) vs. RHP Ryan Dempster (12-8, 3.42).

Key matchup: Rare is the perfect batter-pitcher line in baseball, but Chicago's Blake DeWitt is 6 for 6 off Karstens, with two doubles and two RBIs.

Of note: All 12 of Andrew McCutchen's home runs this year have been solo shots. He is the only player in Major League Baseball this season to have hit his first 12 with no runners aboard.

The PBC Blog

Box score

Team highlights



Minor-league report

At the end, of course, there is the terrible record of 43-88, on pace for 53-109.

And, with all due respect to the infamous 1890 Pittsburg Alleghenys who went 23-113 when they were not toiling in the mills and mines, as well as the 1952 "Rickey Dinks" who went 42-112, the current Pirates are operating in a sporting atmosphere where such anomalies are increasingly rare. In Major League Baseball, no team has lost more than 106 since the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks went 51-111.

If this is not the Pirates' worst team in that context, then good luck to the historian wishing to prove otherwise.

Russell was asked after this one, how difficult the losing has become, in general.

"Well, you come in and want to get off to a good start in the series," he replied. "We were working Carlos Zambrano's pitch count up pretty good and, next thing you know, they score seven runs ... it deflates itself. It's tough. But the guys kept playing hard. We've just got to put this behind us and come back tomorrow."

Second baseman Neil Walker, one of no more than a handful of bright spots all summer, was asked the same question.

"It's very difficult. It really is," he said. "There's a lot you have to swallow as a competitor. You have to understand that this is a process. For a lot of us, this is our first go-round in the big leagues. The competitor in you wants to win every night, but ... we've just been on the butt-end of some stuff."

This butt-end came from the Cubs, against whom the Pirates had been 9-3 to account for 21 percent of all their victories.

Maholm had nothing from the warmups onward, giving up five doubles among his nine hits.

"He didn't throw very well," Russell said. "It's hard to pinpoint one thing. He just wasn't able to really execute his pitches. Tough night."

There have been a few of those for Maholm, maddeningly inconsistent in going 7-13. Five times, he has given up seven or more runs.

"It's not throwing my sinker like I can," Maholm said. "Instead of establishing down and away, I'm missing over the middle and getting into bad counts. I know what it is, and it's going to be fixed. This is the most frustrating thing, to have two good ones and then these games come around."

The bleeding remained profuse.

Sean Gallagher gave up a run, Brian Burres five more, as Chicago sent 11 men to the plate in the fourth, nine more in the fifth, for 11 runs in those two innings. In all, the Cubs pounded out 18 hits, half of them doubles, as well as a two-run home run by the pitcher Zambrano.

It marked the 11th time an opponent scored into double-digits, and the only scores more lopsided were the 20-0 and 17-3 losses to the Milwaukee Brewers.

These are the kinds of games, and this is the kind of season, that gets people fired. Usually a lot of people. Although indications have been strong that neither Russell nor Huntington would be fired during the season, team president Frank Coonelly said two weeks ago that "nobody's job is absolutely safe," and described the team's showing as "an embarrassment."

Maholm, one of the team leaders, was asked if the players were thinking about possible firings.

"You can't do that. You can't be out there thinking about that," he said. "And they're not the ones throwing the pitches. Our job is to go out there and win the games, to do what we're supposed to do."

The Pirates have lost four in a row, all on this trip, extending their road losing streak to 14. If that seems like a lot, consider that there was a 17-game losing streak that spanned May and June. Since the beginning of that 17-gamer, they have won just four of their past 42 road games.

That is half of the 2010 road schedule.

One other thing: The Pirates were formally eliminated from the playoffs.

Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog . First Published August 31, 2010 4:30 AM


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