The Pirates sit last in the NL Central, their 32-39 record a half-game worse than the Reds' 32-38 mark. Way up top you'll find the Brewers — who just swept the Pirates in three games in Milwaukee — boasting a strong 40-32 record.
The Pirates are just 2-8 in their past 10, giving fans plenty of reasons to complain and to wallow in negativity along the way. The starting pitching's been laughable. The hitting came alive — only to be repeatedly ruined by shoddy bullpen performances.
There was plenty of skepticism when the team rocketed out of the gates and captured first place after 16 games and now, it seems, the Pirates have crashed back to reality ... All of which makes the team's positivity and high hopes in the locker room Tuesday at PNC Park before their two-game homestand against the Tigers all the more surprising to hear.
"It's going to be fun to watch when everything's clicking like it was in April," Williams was saying.
Did you catch it? Williams said when, not "if" things start to click for the squad. This sense of positivity has followed the team throughout the season, allowing them to rebound time after time.
On May 9, the Pirates lost, 17-4, to the Cardinals in the first game of an 11-game road trip. It was pretty much the worst possible way to kick off the trip. But they'd go on to take three of four in St. Louis, then one of three against the Diamondbacks and three of four against the Padres for a 7-4 trip overall.
To hear Williams tell it, it's all about perspective. They never dwell too much on one win, one loss, a series win or a series loss. The season is long, and they believe in the guys inside that locker room at the end of the day.
"Like I said, it's still June," Williams continued. "We have the second half to look forward to as a team and I look forward to seeing what we can do."
Wanting a little more on this subject, I probed Hurdle about the idea of "momentum" in baseball. The dynamics change on a nightly basis on the diamond, with different pitchers and different lineups creating entirely different ballgames even between the same two teams.
So is momentum real? If so, how does it work?
Hurdle broke down the dynamic beautifully:
Should the Pirates take two against the struggling Tigers, things will be looking up for the club. They activated Chris Stratton off the IL Tuesday before the game, moving their IL from 12 to 11 players.
Williams will be activated Wednesday. Lyles is making progress too. Get the band back together on the mound, keep the hitting rolling, and you've got something there.
"There's a lot to look forward to," Williams said. "It's nice coming home after a 10-day road trip and being at home and being here for a week. But it's going to be fun for everybody to be together on this squad."
If it all comes together as Williams sees, the team might have to work on a new sponsorship as well. According to Williams, the Pirates made a shift in their H2O consumption, and that might've made all the difference.
"We stopped drinking Pittsburgh water," he said with a laugh. "We've been drinking bottled water — Fiji water. So hopefully it wasn't the Pittsburgh water, but we're trying to eliminate everything we can so we can all be healthy."
More notes from pregame:
• Williams on the hitting turnaround: "They've been doing great. We had the lineup, we were looking up in Miami — their scoreboard has averages unlike ours — and you look up and the first five guys are hitting over .300. It's impressive. You can say average is obsolete now, but when you hit .300, there's a reason why you're hitting .300. A lot of guys at the top of the lineup, the middle of the lineup and even at the back end of the lineup that have been putting good at-bats together and we've been scoring runs."
• Williams said Taillon's return is "in the sights as well."
• Lyles threw a sim game before Tuesday's showdown vs. the Tigers. Four innings, 65 pitches. The team will evaluate his progress from there.
• Hurdle on if officially recalling Mitch Keller could lead to better performances: "We'll see. It definitely could. The execution of pitches is always going to be the biggest factor, so this may help."
• Hurdle on Stratton: "He gave us some good work while he was here. He's got experience. He started. He's relieved. He's a guy that's shown the ability to read swings on the mound... We're happy to have him back."
• Hurdle said everybody's "happy to see" Cervelli around the clubhouse, but there's no timetable set and "nobody's asking him" when he'll come back.
• Hurdle, speaking to the team's outfield depth, said Dickerson is "getting a little bit better every day" and Polanco is "looking for more consistency in his swing." He also mentioned "it's hard to sit" Reynolds and Marte.
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