By: Chris Mueller

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) — Losing 7-1 in the home opener is demoralizing, sure, but what really bothered me was that the Pirates didn’t lose a hard fought game like they did in St. Louis, and they couldn’t blame the loss on a meltdown by a normally reliable back of the bullpen guy like they could in Chicago. The Pirates just looked listless and sloppy in their first home game of the season. When the highlight of the game for paying customers is a guy running from the stands to the field and subsequently getting broke after a poor attempt to evade security, you know the action on the field wasn’t good.

The Pirates need a specific recipe to conjure up wins: The fact that they’ll almost always need all these ingredients to be present is what separates them from better teams; other squads can win when they’re not at their best. The Pirates typically won’t be able to. Here’s what absolutely has to happen for this team to win a respectable number of games.

They’ve got to get good starting pitching. Paul Maholm is a veteran and a former first-round pick, but he’s not going to make anyone swing and miss at the major league level. He has to keep the ball down. Actually, keeping the ball down applies for every pitcher in the starting rotation. None of them are going to throw it 98 with action and just buzz right through lineups.

They’ve got to play good defense. This might have been the most frustrating thing about the Bucs’ loss. Neil Walker’s throwing error opened the door for two runs early, and the tone of the game was set, even though the Pirates hung around for a few innings. This team does not have much in the way of defensive pedigree, and Pedro Alvarez does not project as a third baseman as his career progresses. Nevertheless, they have to be at least competent to not give runs away to help this pitching staff.

They’ve got to hit. Much has been made of the Pirates 64 strikeouts thus far in only seven games. That’s an ugly number to have, and it takes some of the chance out of the game for the opposition’s defense. It’d be nice to just see the Bucs put the ball in play and force the other team to make a play on it, but they’ve shown an alarming tendency as a group to get punched out. That’s not the biggest thing, though. In order to win, the Bucs have to get timely hitting, and tack on runs when they have a lead. There’s no great secret to this. They’ve just got to work counts and try to drive their pitch if and when they see it.

They can’t give away wins. If the bullpen blows a lead on this team, the effect is even more negative than usual, because this is a young team that can’t just shrug off a late loss. When the Bucs get leads, they have to hold them.

The things I just wrote are from the Captain Obvious School of Observation, but the Pirates were so bad at the obvious things last year, so listless, that I think some people may have forgotten what winning baseball tends to look like. So just be on guard–if you see errors, elevated pitches, and swings and misses from the guys with “Pirates” on their jerseys, you’re probably not going to see a win. And progress will once again remain elusive.

*End transmission from Captain Obvious*

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