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The Pirates have managed to render Paul Skenes ineffective

OK, the headline for this article is a little misleading.

When you see words like “Pirates,” “managed,” and “ineffective,” you probably think Pittsburgh’s brain trust has taken Paul Skenes’s enormous pitching talent and turned him into a pitch-to-contact guy, a la Gerrit Cole back in the day.

You probably think Skenes has been ineffective over his first nine starts since making his rookie debut on May 11. Nope, nothing could be further from the truth; Skenes has been quite effective. Just how effective? Skenes has pitched 52.1 innings while allowing 12 earned runs. He’s struck out 70 batters and only walked 10. His ERA is 2.06. His WHIP (walk and hits to inning pitched) is 1.03.

He’s 4-0.

Skenes may already be the best pitcher in baseball. He’s certainly become the talk of MLB and may even be in the All-Star Game.

So how have the Pirates managed to render Skenes ineffective? By being the Pirates. That’s right, they’re so good at being bad that they instinctively know only to score one run every time Skenes steps on the mound. If they do that, not only do they decrease the rookie pitcher’s chances of earning a victory, but they make it almost impossible to actually win the game.

Take Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, for example. Skenes’s biggest mistake of the day was allowing a lead-off home run to Braves centerfielder Jarred Kelenic in the bottom of the first inning. How could he be so careless? Naturally, the Pirates being the Pirates, they scored just one run against Max Fried over six innings. In fairness to Pittsburgh, Fried is the Braves ace pitcher, but Atlanta’s bullpen managed to shut the Bucco batters down over the final four frames and won by a score of 2-1 in 10 innings.

For the day, Skenes gave up one run over six innings. He allowed six hits while striking out nine batters and walking two.

If Skenes’s stat line from Saturday looks familiar to you, it’s probably because it was similar to the one he turned in against the Rays six days earlier at PNC Park. The young stud allowed a lead-off home run to Yandy Diaz in the top of the first. It would be the only run Skenes gave up in seven innings of work. He allowed six hits and walked one batter while striking out eight. Unfortunately, the Pirates could only score one run and lost the game by a score of 3-1.

Hey, we get it, Skenes is the real deal, but you have to understand how frustrating it is to watch his starts get wasted by a lineup that just can’t produce. The Pirates have lost the first two games of a three-game weekend set in Atlanta and have scored a combined two runs in 19 innings.

That’s pathetic.

What’s the organization’s response to an offense that is batting .228 (26th in MLB), has hit 76 home runs (24th in MLB), scored 329 runs (25th in MLB), driven in 318 (23rd in MLB), struck out 777 times (third-most in MLB), has an on-base percentage of .297 (26th in MLB) and a slugging percentage of .359 (28th in MLB)? According to manager Derek Shelton, hitting is down all over both leagues. In other words, “It’s not just us, the whole league sucks!” OK, but your offense is especially bad relative to the other 29 teams.

That doesn’t make the fans feel any better.

Speaking of the fans, they along with the local media, have been clamoring for the front office–specifically general manager Ben Cherrington–to trade some prospects for some bats.

The Pirates head into Sunday with a 39-43 record and are now 9.5 games behind the Brewers for first place in the National League Central Division. More importantly, Pittsburgh is falling farther behind in the wildcard race and is now three games back of the final spot.

Nobody is asking for Aaron Judge, just a modern-day Marlon Byrd. It shouldn’t take a king’s ransom to get a pretty good veteran hitter back in a trade for a decent prospect or prospects–even in a season when the wildcard race is pretty crowded.

The Pirates have a Cadillac pitching staff (especially their top three starters) and a Pinto offense.

It’s time the organization steps up and does something to help this team become a true contender–even for just a wildcard spot.

The Pirates’ current identity might be pitching, but it can’t be all they’re good at if they ever want to see their young guns fire in the postseason.


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