By: Colin DunlapBy Colin Dunlap

The Pirates aren’t playing their best as they head out West.

Yeah, I’m not breaking any news here. You know this already.

But there’s something even more apparent: If they don’t get it together against the Los Angeles Dodgers over the next four games, this very well might be where — looking at it retrospectively — we were able to mark the beginning of the end for the 2014 Pirates season.

Is that being too harsh? I don’t think so.

Would it be writing the obituary for this team a bit too prematurely? Not in my estimation.

At 23-29 as the Pirates enter a four-game series tonight that runs through Sunday, I’ll go ahead and make this pronouncement: If they don’t at least split with the Dodgers, they can forget about climbing back into the National League Central race.

Go ahead and tell me all about how much baseball there is left to play.

Come at me with how the Pirates’ fortunes could change and they could get hot at any time.

I will counter with this: What has given you the indication, through 51 games, that this team has it in them for the long haul?

The pitching surely hasn’t.

The offensive certainly hasn’t, either.

The Pirates aren’t getting the production from two key cogs who were expected to produce this season — Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez.

That said, back to the original point …

If it doesn’t get clicking against these Dodgers as the calendar vaults from May into June, I’m afraid they will have fallen too far behind. And, again, I will quantify it — the Pirates must at least earn a split in these next four games or I’m ready to say they are pretty much dead in the NL Central race.

To wit: When the Pirates walked off the field after sustaining a 5-0 loss against the Mets on Wednesday, they had fallen 7.5 games back of division-leader Milwaukee, six games back of the Cardinals, who were in second place, and were tied with the Reds.

If the Pirates fall further behind, the climb becomes steeper and the season becomes shorter. That isn’t some revelation, but with a team ERA 12th out of 15 National League teams (3.85) and a dreadful 7-16 record on the road, I’m hard pressed to think they can jump back into the race if they don’t get a jolt this weekend.

And not just the NL Central race, either.

In terms of the Wild Cards (yes, I’m one of those nuts who have already begun looking at such a thing) the Pirates must get back to winning if they are to have any shot. As it stands, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Colorado and Miami are all teams that don’t lead their divisions but it is clear to see, right now at least, are better than the Pirates.

That can all change, but it must change quickly; the Pirates must wake up in Los Angeles for me to believe they can contend with these teams from here until the end of September.

It will be daunting in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers are scheduled to send Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Hyun-jin Ryu and Zack Greinke to the mound.

They have ERAs, respectively, of 3.16, 2.43, 3.10 and 2.18.

Translation: Good luck.

It can be done, but the Pirates are going to have to beat some of the best in the game on the road.

“If you don’t play well here, you don’t win — at this level,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said before the club left New York for Los Angeles. “And we’ve got to do a better job; it’s not one thing. … flat out we’ve got work to do, we’ve got to play better.”

If the Pirates don’t play better in Los Angeles, if they don’t find themselves on the right side of at least two of the games against the Dodgers, it might not be premature to say this club is on a steady passageway to be out of the pennant race for good.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at Check out his bio here.

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