The Pittsburgh Pirates dropped their third straight game via walk-off fashion Sunday afternoon as Kolten Wong’s solo shot in the bottom of the 14th inning led the St. Louis Cardinals to the weekend series sweep. 

With the loss, the Pirates have now lost three games in a row and five of their last six games.  The team has won just three of its first eight series on the season, dropping four series and coming out with a series tie against the Chicago Cubs April 20-23.  

With a 12-13 record on the season, the Pirates do not look like the team people had expected to make the leap this season from a wild-card contender to a division title winner.  

Now, a dismal start to the regular season is something this Pittsburgh squad is accustomed to.  On May 3 last season, the Pirates were 12-18 through their first 30 games.  So, they have already matched their win total through 30 games last season in only 25 games this season.  

Still, the slow start in Pittsburgh is nothing to just brush to the side and not worry about.  A quick turnaround after a slow start in 2014 does not mean the Pirates will automatically do the same this time around.  

The biggest cause for concern has been the inability of Pirates batters to manufacture runs.  The Pirates scored just four runs in St. Louis this weekend, losing each game by just one run.

There should be little concern of batters’ abilities to drive in runners from second or third.  Entering Sunday’s contest, Pittsburgh batters owned a .285 batting average when there was a runner in scoring position.

Still, that average dropped to .274 when Pirates batters left a combined 19 runners on base Sunday afternoon.  

When there is no one on base, the team batting average stands at a dismal .209 on the season. After seeing nine batters strike out Sunday, the Pirates have 213 strikeouts as a team, which is third highest in the National League

The Pirates have just four regulars batting over .250 this season: Gregory Polanco (.290), Starling Marte (.258), Jung Ho Kang (.281) and Neil Walker (.267).  

Where is 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen and 2014 standout third baseman Josh Harrison on that list? 

Harrison, who is expected to serve as the table-setter for McCutchen, went 0-for-7 Sunday with two strikeouts and four men left one base.  McCutchen, who has become accustomed to driving in runners while also setting the table for cleanup men Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker, is batting just .193 after going 1-for-7 Sunday.

McCutchen, himself, is an example of a slow starter who has been able to turn it on in the middle stages of the regular season.  

After starting off slow through the first two weeks of last season, McCutchen‘s average stood at .298 through the team’s first 25 games in 2014.  Never in his career has he slumped as badly as he has this season through Pittsburgh’s first month and change of baseball.

Then there is Harrison, who had a breakout 2014 season in which he batted .315 with 13 home runs and 52 RBI in 143 games.  

Through his first 25 games in 2014, Harrison batted .217 with five strikeouts.  Through 23 games this season, he is batting .188 with 18 strikeouts already.  

On the bright side, the Pirates have received dominant performances from their top three starting pitchers.  Gerrit Cole owns a 1.76 ERA in five starts.  In the same amount of starts, Francisco Liriano has pitched to a 1.95 ERA.  Then there is veteran A.J. Burnett, who has looked like a pitcher who is still in his prime, pitching to a 1.45 ERA in five starts.  

Still, aside from Cole, who is 4-0 on the season, Burnett and Liriano have just one win (and one loss) to show for their efforts.  

A big reason for the lack of wins for those two has been the lack of production on offense.  The Pirates have scored two runs or fewer in all five of Burnett’s starts this season.  

Another reason, though, has been the lack in efficiency from relievers such as closer Mark Melancon, who has a 4.76 ERA in 12 games this season.  In 10 of those appearances, Melancon has looked like the dominant closer that he is.  

In the other two games, however, Melancon has a blown save and a loss and has allowed three earned runs in both of them.  

The Pirates could not be happier with the performances from the starting pitchers this season. Unfortunately, many of those performances have been wasted, as the Pirates continue to struggle.  

So, is it time to start panicking in Pittsburgh?  I wouldn’t go that far.  At the same time, however, saying the big bats in the lineup are slumping is being generous.  In reality, they have been awful, and if they do not wake up soon, the Pirates will struggle to keep pace with the Cardinals for the division title race and possibly even the Cubs in the race for a wild-card spot.  


*Statistics courtesy of Baseball

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