Kovacevic: Crumpling under weight of their pitching ☕


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Starling Marte can't come up with a triple by the Mets' Amed Rosario in the third inning Friday night in New York. - AP

NEW YORK -- This is so, so tired.

And maybe these Pirates are, too, in their own way.

On this Friday night at Citi Field, the first of Dario Agrazal's suddenly promising big-league career where he absorbed a big-league pummeling, two things felt like dead-set certainties about the visitors:

1. They'd still mount a comeback.

2. They'd still lose.

Because hey, that's pretty much all they do anymore, now losers of six in a row and 2-12 since the All-Star break following this 6-3, four-home-run bashing by the Mets.

The comeback component's been there since the opener, of course. Anyone who's witnessed any meaningful portion of this season can authoritatively attest to that. And anyone who doesn't believe only needs to count up 22 comeback wins out of their 46, 13 in the final inning and four walkoffs. Heck, they've had huge comebacks in games they didn't win.

But has anyone noticed those are now the norm?

For that matter, has anyone noticed that the offense that overpowered the rest of Major League Baseball in June has fallen back in July, currently ranking 15th with a .773 OPS?

Oh, and has anyone noticed how the pitching has morphed from epic disaster to ... um, a more epic disaster?

Seems like a sizable chunk of the fan base wants to pin this on quitting. That's convenient, if only because it's easily condensed. Any baseball team looks bad, even looks sluggish with lackluster body language, when it's getting its brains blown out every other night. On Pete Alonso's monster home run to left-center in the sixth inning, Melky Cabrera barely cast an eye on the ball, never mind budging.

Is Melky lazy? Has he quit?

Good God, no. It's not in his makeup, as evidenced by his having become the spiritual leader of this team after making the roster as a spring tryout.

Have any of them quit?

No one can state that for sure, obviously. There are 25-plus men in this mix, and mass mind-reading is tough.

I'm not seeing it, though. I'm not seeing it off the field where, if anything, their intensity and angst has actually hit new heights. And I sure didn't see it the other night where they nearly pulled off the comeback to top all comebacks with that breathtaking 10th-inning roar that fell a run short against the Cardinals.

But that's the pattern right there. I believe it. At the risk of my own oversimplification, I really believe that this offense has gotten tired -- mentally, physically, whatever -- of having to roll the boulder back up the hill, day after day, night after night. I really believe that all those rallies, all that emotion, all that fire ... man, it can't be sustained forever without results.

In this one, too, Agrazal and the Pirates were down, 4-1, in the sixth when Adam Frazier dented the upper deck with this two-run shot ...

... then sparked another threat in the eighth with a leadoff double, followed by Starling Marte reaching on an error. The tying run came to the plate ... but Josh Bell whiffed and Bryan Reynolds bounced into a 6-4-3.

Right. The two guys who led the offense through the first half.

See the pattern?

Bell sizzled two singles earlier on the night, and Reynolds had one, too. But how much is enough when the pitchers wind up giving up four more home runs after just giving up a dozen over four games to the Cardinals at PNC Park?

Not surprisingly, no one here agreed with my theory.

I asked Hurdle after the game, and he flatly replied, "I don't have that sense at all. Especially not after a four-day break when we came back. And being involved in a lot of games in Colorado, my experience there ... you'd never see a game where you didn't think you could come back. So no, from my perspective, that hasn't been the challenge from an offensive standpoint."

Well, I'll disagree right back, and not just because the high-altitude Rockies always have been rewarded with real results for all their rallies. I see hitters — that I trust to be committed individuals — collectively striding into that box without the same focus, and I'll posit that it's because they can't possibly have the same confidence without the collective result.

I ran this past Kevin Newman, too, and he hated it almost as much.

"Nothing's changed. Nothing," he told me. "You come to work, you prepare yourself as best you can, and you go out there and perform. We know we're good enough to beat anybody. We've done it. You just come to the field and do what you've always done."

Except that they aren't. And there's a reason for it: The pitching's been an abomination. An embarrassment. That's partly because of injuries, but it's mostly because of a lack of talent, which, in turn, is because the ownership couldn't care less and the front office can't draft and develop.

That reason, unequivocally, is not that these people on the field are quitting.

If anyone thinks otherwise, name a name. Don't accuse in nebulous terms. Name the actual name of an actual individual who's quit. Because I can promise that, for each name that's cited, there'll be a hell of a comeback for each of those, too.

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