Pirates face their toughest test yet this season

Corey Hart, Ryan Doumit
Pirates have got to figure these guys out to contend. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

After a week long hiatus of moving and getting settled in, I’m back with more of the Pirates coverage that you’re coming to know and love. But don’t think that in the past week I haven’t been following the team, because even through the move, I’ve been on top of it all through the wonders of Sirius radio and my Blackberry.

When I last posted, the Pirates had just hit .500 and all was well in the City of Champions. But, my oh my, how quickly things can change. The team is currently on a five-game losing streak, the face of the franchise was publicly reprimanded for laziness, and the Pirates still cannot win in Milwaukee. Combine these things together, and, suddenly, you find the team facing their stiffest test of the young season — trying to play winning baseball under the media spotlight for an extended period of time.

The five-game skid has been getting worse by the game. After staying competitive in dropping three of four to the Dodgers, the Pirates were man-handled in Milwaukee over the weekend — a place that has become an ugly reminder of just how bad the past 18 years have been. After this past weekend’s series, the Buccos have dropped 33 of 36 at Miller Park since 2007. This series could have been the beginning of the end for the pitching staff, as well. Serving as the floation device for a stuggling offense for most of this season, the unit as a whole gave up 21 runs in the three weekend games, including seven home runs. The stalwart of the staff, Kevin Correia, was shelled on Sunday, as well, giving up six runs in four, long innings of work. Correia missed out on his bid to become the first Pirates pitcher to six wins by mid-May since Doug Drabek and Neal Horton did it in 1991.

Individual player issues are also helping to cast a shadow over the team. Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen was publically reprimanded for failing to run out a dropped third strike last week, and over the weekend, the Pittsburgh newspapers began debating whether Pedro Alvarez should be sent down to minors to remember how to swing a baseball bat. Coming into the season, Alvarez was being depended upon to provide a power bat that the team has lacked for the past few seasons, but instead has provided absolutely nothing with his .210 average and one measely home run.

How the Pirates handle the coming week is going to dictate how the rest of the season will go for the team. If they can show perseverance, perhaps it will be a sign that the team getting over .500 briefly was not a fluke. But if they mail it in and drop, say, five of their next seven, it will look to be another long summer on the banks of the Allegheny. It’s now-or-never, do-or-die time for the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates, and we’re going to see how much this cast of young, talented players are made of.

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