Pirates hoping to overcome slow start

'The storms don't always last,' Harrison says after Bucs lose 20th of past 26 games

Pirates hoping to overcome slow start

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates haven't endured a stretch this miserable since their resurgence in 2013, not since they fell from contending for a playoff spot to their 20th straight losing season in September 2012.

The Pirates lost again Thursday, a 5-3 defeat at PNC Park to a red-hot Giants team that has won 30 of its past 39 games. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has lost eight of nine, 13 of 15 and 20 of 26.

The Bucs were a season-high nine games over .500 when this skid began in Texas nearly a full month ago. Now, they're coming off their worst 26-game stretch, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, since Sept. 1 to 28, 2012.

The Pirates are five games under .500, 14 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Cubs and 5 1/2 games (and three other teams) removed from the second Wild Card spot.

Pittsburgh overcame a slow start last season and won 98 games. The Pirates weren't much better at this point of the 2014 season, three games under .500 instead of five, and they captured the top Wild Card spot. Can this team handle another comeback?

"We're equipped, man. We're strong," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "Baseball's a challenging game, not only physically, but mentally. Guys are out there giving it all they've got. That's all you can ask for. ... The storms don't always last."

But this storm has hung over the Pirates, threatening, like the gray clouds that hovered above PNC Park all Thursday afternoon.

It began on May 13, when the Pirates opened a stretch that eventually brought them to the ballpark with a scheduled game for 31 straight days. The schedule itself hasn't been kind, either. During this losing stretch, they've played mostly against teams with winning records.

"We've shown up. We've shown up every day. The one off-day we had was a travel day. It's different," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You don't overcook it. We've all committed to it."

The Pirates are dealing with key injuries at an inopportune time, starting with ace Gerrit Cole and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Their depth has been tested, and aside from Jameson Taillon, their top pitching prospects haven't yet proven to be ready for the big leagues.

One of the best pitching clubs in baseball the last few years, the Pirates' 4.57 ERA is the fifth highest in the Majors.

Yet there is hope on the horizon. Their schedule lightens up after the All-Star break, with 34 of their 73 games against the Reds, Brewers and Phillies. Cole and Cervelli will return. They hope Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Liriano will return to form along with them.

"It's no secret what's happened here the past couple weeks or whatever, but there's still a lot of baseball left," Harrison said. "There's no need for us as an offense to feel like we have to do more or the pitching staff to do more. Just come ready. What happened today or yesterday doesn't affect tomorrow or the future."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.