The bean ball heard ‘round the world, or around Pittsburgh at least, has left Pirates’ fans wondering how things could get worse.

The presumed ace of the rotation, Gerrit Cole, is taking a longer time than people assumed after having tightness in his right lat, Gregory Polanco has fallen off significantly since tearing up major league pitching during his first few weeks up, Starling Marte is still rehabbing after being drilled in the head with a pitch and Pedro Alvarez is, well, he’s having struggles to say the very least.

Now team catalyst Andrew McCutchen is out for an extended amount of time after being hit in the back by Diamondbacks’ pitcher Randall Delgado in what was clear retaliation for the Ernesto Frieri’s (seemingly) accidental pitch that struck Arizona star Paul Goldschmidt in the hand and sent him to the DL.

It’s easy to blame Diamondback manager Kirk Gibson for the bean ball but a more appropriate villain would be the game’s “unwritten rules”.

I understand retaliation. I understand wanting to show your star player that you have his back and won’t condone opposing teams coming after him. But that wasn’t the case when Goldschmidt got hit. The Pirates weren’t trying to send a message when they hit the Arizona star. It was 9-4 in the bottom of the ninth against a team that is having a train wreck of a season. There is no budding rivalry between the two teams. The Diamondbacks could even possibly be the farthest team from the Pirates, geographically speaking.

So why would Gibson take exception to his star player being hit by a pitch?

The “unwritten rules”.

The rules are outdated and reckless. This is how players get hurt. This isn’t the Red Sox versus the Yankees, this isn’t a critical series between the Dodgers and the Giants.

There is no room in baseball for retaliation, at least not in the form of hitting an opposing player with a 95 mile-per-hour pitch. The Pirates, the Diamondbacks, and the league are lucky that it wasn’t worse.

What happens when the pitcher misses his spot and hits a player in the head? How far does the bean ball game have to go before teams and managers learn that the “unwritten rules” are nothing but a reminder for how the game was played and not an accurate depiction of how it should currently be played.

Personally, I think the league is taking steps towards discouraging the plunking of opposing players. You saw it when Delgado was immediately ejected from the game and you saw it when Justin Wilson was thrown out for hitting a Dodger player but how does Bud Selig or the future commissioner prevent bean balls from happening in the first place?

I’m glad I’m not the one charged with finding a solution to one of baseball’s biggest issues.

But back to the Pirates and how McCutchen’s injury will affect them moving forward.

It’s easy to overreact in a situation like this. McCutchen leads the team in just about every single offensive category – he is, after all, the reigning MVP.

But since July 12th, when McCutchen was hitting .325, his batting average has dropped .14 points. That’s a big drop off for one of baseball’s more consistent players. And one would logically think that with their star player struggling, the team would struggle. The Pirates finished 11-7 over that stretch. That’s not bad.

It’s far too easy to expect the Pirates to play dead after losing McCutchen. It’s also far too early to make that assumption.

It will take a lot of pieces for the Pirates to stay in contention, especially considering they have three other contenders in the NL central alone.

Pedro will have to figure out why he can’t make a decent throw to first. Josh Harrison will need to continue to play above and beyond what people expected of him. Marte and Polanco will have to live up to the incredibly high expectations and the rotation will have to be lights out.

That’s a tall task for a team like the Pirates.

Neal Huntington could make some more waiver magic happen to help bolster the team but all the team has to do is keep its head above water until Cutch returns.

It’s too early to panic. I’m cautiously optimistic that Clint Hurdle can somehow keep the team in contention. More than one player will have to step and make his presence known.

Here’s to hoping that an intentional bean ball doesn’t change the landscape of the NL central and wild card race.

Posted in Pittsburgh Pirates