Time has caught up to the Buc rotation.
Kevin Correia and Paul Maholm are both on the 60-day DL, ending their seasons. Jeff Karstens missed two starts and is due back on the 19th; Brian Burres picked up a pair of starts in his stead. The latest to get a day off because of fatigue is Charlie Morton, who will skip Saturday and be replaced by Jeff Locke. James McDonald is the only pitcher from the original rotation left standing in September.
Maholm and Correia were surprises as both had been workhorses throughout their career. But you could see it coming; Maholm was hit hard in July, though he managed games pretty well. But in August, his ERA jumped to 6.75. Correia's July ERA was 6.08 , and August's was worse at 8.41.
Karstens had a 7.46 ERA in August. After a horrible May, Morton looked as if he had found himself. But in his last three starts, he only lasted 14 innings with a 7.23 ERA. Both were over 150 IP, career highs, and both also had career highs in wins with nine. This year should serve as a springboard for them.
J-Mac has emerged as the Buccos future go-to guy. After being pushed around in April, missing most of spring camp with an injury to his left side, he became the Pirates most consistent arm. In the following months, he never had an ERA higher than 3.93 and was clocked in at 2.86 in May. When he learns to manage his pitch count, McDonald should become a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm that can miss bats.
In the long view, the rotation losing guys is something to be expected. To lose them all at once was brutal, and the August collapse as fatigue took its toll on the team saw the Pirates free-fall out of contention and even a chance to finish at .500.
For the immediate future, the rotation is Brian Burres, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Locke, James McDonald, and Brad Lincoln.
And that's not all bad. Paul Maholm is likely to not return. J-Mac, Morton, Karstens, Correia and Lincoln will form next year's nucleus for now, with Locke knocking on the door and Ohlie likely to get a look from the pen.
Altoona's Aaron Thompson and Kyle McPherson should be starting at Indy next season while Justin Wilson and Rudy Owens will try to get back on track. And don't forget about Jose Ascanio, who was thrown into the fire after a long layoff. After a rough start at Indy, he's recovered to K 50 batters in 44 innings while walking just 15 and was stretched out as a starter if the Pirates do choose to bring him back.
The prediction of the Pirate arms falling off in the dog days unfortunately came true. But the silver lining is that next year, there should be a deeper staff, albeit without an ace, and one with some experience. Some freshly scrubbed faces are finally reaching AAA. And in a couple of years, hopefully one of those young guns the FO has horded will fill in the top of the rotation.
It may be a couple of seasons from fruition, but at least the Pirate pitching is beginning to build.