The 2022 Pirates Are Already Breaking Records...And Not in a Good Way

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Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates fell to the San Diego Padres 5-2, dropping their record to 9-13.  Former Pirates pitcher Joe Musgrove got the win for the Padres, pitching seven solid innings and striking out eight.  Pirates pitcher Mitch Keller had arguably his strongest outing this season, and maybe in his career, pitching six innings, striking out five and only allowing one earned run.  However, he was unable to pick up the win, and therein where the problem lies.

With Keller not getting the win yesterday, the Pirates made history just a few weeks into the 2022 season.  They set the record for the most games to start a season without a starting pitcher getting a win.  The previous record was 21 games to start a season, set by the Baltimore Orioles in 1988.  

The breaking of this record is alarming for a few reasons.  First, it shows the lack of production this team has had from their starting rotation through the first 22 games of the season.  Now, some of the shortened starts were done intentionally, a result of the shortened spring training from CBA negotiations.  However, Pirates starters have still shown an inability to go deep into games.  The five starters (JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Jose Quintana, Bryse Wilson and Zach Thompson) have pitched a total of 92 2/3 innings (plus 2 Dillon Peters opener innings) through the first 22 games.  That's an average of slightly over 4 innings per start.  

It's hard to get a win when the majority of the time, the starters aren't pitching deep enough into games to even earn one by rule.  Up to this point, Jose Quintana has the best ERA in the rotation at 3.32, which is pretty solid.  However, the next best is Bryse Wilson at 4.70, with the other three guys being above 5.30 (Zach Thompson currently sits at 10.05!).  The starters just aren't providing enough quality pitching early on in games to aid a bullpen that has greatly exceeded expectations so far this season.

The second reason why this record being broken is detrimental for the Pirates going forward is how much they've relied on the bullpen this early in the season.  With the starters pitching less innings than anticipated, the rest of those innings fall on the bullpen.  And while the bullpen has definitely pitched better than expected, that is not something that is sustainable throughout the course of the season if they continue to pitch as much as they have.  

Starter-turned-reliever Wil Crowe has pitched more innings than both Wilson and Thompson already this season, all out of the bullpen.  Although he and a few other bullpen arms were once starters or are going to be starters in the long-term, you still don't want these guys to being throwing multiple innings every other day.  The Pirates are going to need them for 162 games and they won't be able to hold up all season at this rate.

While the pitching undoubtedly should shoulder the overwhelming majority of the blame, I can't fail to mention the hitting as part of this record.  The offense hasn't lived up to expectations so far this season either.  Just yesterday, Keller gave the team a quality start.  However, the offense wasn't able to put up just two runs against their former teammate to put Keller in line for a win.  Center fielder Bryan Reynolds has been mired in a slump and manager Derek Shelton has tried a variety of lineups to try to spark this offense.  The production just doesn't seem to be there at the moment.  Add this onto the poor starting pitching and it's easy to see why the record was broken.

I want to be excited with how good the bullpen has pitched, but deep down I just know that it's a ticking time bomb if this pace continues.  I want to tell myself that the starters will be able to turn things around and can start to pitch deeper into games now that they are fully stretched out.  

However, there were a lot of question marks surrounding this staff heading into the season, so them being able to figure it out is far from certain.  If they don't, you'll see the bullpen used an unprecedented amount and Shelton will have difficult decisions to make midseason about how to pitch some of these guys, like Crowe.

It's never good to be breaking records of this kind, especially when it comes at this cost.  It had been 34 years since the record was set by the Orioles, and if the Pirates extend it any further, it could be quite some time before we see another come close to breaking it.  

The Pirates have a chance to end it on Tuesday, when Bryse Wilson takes the mound against the Detroit Tigers.  Here's to hoping he can go five innings with the offense providing him a lead before he exits the game.

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