Pirates eye consistency for late-season run

Bucs set to host Cardinals for three games on Monday

Pirates eye consistency for late-season run

PITTSBURGH -- In an ideal baseball world, John Jaso said, a team would flip on a switch the first day of the season "and leave it there." But Andrew McCutchen described the ebbs and flows of the Pirates' season like a man flipping a broken switch: "Down, up, down, up, down."

That switch is pointing down for the Pirates, whose season-long losing streak reached six on Sunday following a 10-0 rout by the Brewers at PNC Park. Pittsburgh was swept by Milwaukee, outscored 18-4 and shut out in two of three games.

"We just need consistency. We need consistency with a lot of things," McCutchen said. "Things get going well, then they don't. We've just got to find consistency with something.

"I don't know what it is, but we need to figure it out, because time's running out."

The ups and downs have balanced out to make the Pirates a .500 team, locked at 67-67 with 28 games remaining. They were riding high only a week ago, still out of the postseason picture but coming off a four-game sweep of the Brewers at Miller Park. They were promptly swept by the Cubs at Wrigley Field then, more disappointingly, shut down by Milwaukee at home.

"Just not doing what we need to be doing right now. Flow's not there," McCutchen said. "Just need to get in that flow again, get things going. I can't think of another word. It's not flowing right now."

There is still some hope for the Pirates, aiming to reach the postseason for the fourth straight year. Six of their final 28 games will come against the Cardinals, and they will begin a three-game series in Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon.

"It's a humbling game," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We all need to hit the reset, refresh button and go on. Lamenting about the past isn't going to do anybody any good."

Nor will playing the way they did over the weekend. The Pirates went 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position. They wasted strong starting pitching performances by Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova and Steven Brault.

In the end, they didn't seize opportunities to gain ground in the National League Wild Card standings, instead falling 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the final playoff spot and running up their longest losing streak since dropping seven in a row in August 2014.

"What are you going to do, fold up your bag and go home?" Hurdle said. "That's not even an option. You play."

The Pirates believe they have the personnel to fight their way back into the race despite the odds against them. Their lineup hit well at the beginning of the season, and their pitching has improved since the Trade Deadline.

"If we get both those things clicking, we could be that club that rolls and finds itself the hottest and healthiest team going into the postseason. That's the goal," general manager Neal Huntington said. "The challenge is every day we don't make it happen, it's one less day we can make it happen."

And as McCutchen said, time is running out.

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.