PITTSBURGH -- For more than a month, the Pirates have been working and waiting. They've worked to get themselves out of the rough stretch that continued with Sunday's 3-0 loss to the D-backs at PNC Park. And they've waited for the moment -- one pitch, at-bat, swing or series -- that might snap them out of it.
It didn't come on Sunday. The Pirates managed only five hits and struck out nine times against Clay Buchholz and three Arizona relievers, as they were swept by the D-backs for the first time since a three-game series in August 2009. Pittsburgh has totaled only eight runs while losing five straight games, tied for the club's longest losing streak of the season.
"We're going to keep playing. The season's not going to stop," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Nobody's going to feel sorry for us. These guys in here are working hard to get better. We haven't gotten better."
This is not a new development, either. The Pirates were 26-17 on May 17, a season-high nine games over .500. But they've lost 24 of their last 34 games, and the lineup that pumped out five runs per game before May 18 has averaged 3.6 runs since then.
"I don't think there's any denying what we did earlier in the year, that guys can get back to that," second baseman Josh Harrison said. "It's just got to be a committed effort."
On Sunday, they couldn't muster any offense to support starter Trevor Williams. The right-hander took the loss despite making a quality start, allowing three runs over six innings, after he gave up a pair of early homers.
"At the beginning of the season, pitching was clicking, hitting was clicking," Williams said. "We're starting to get apart from each other, and we're hitting a skid at the same time."
Some might wonder, which team are the Pirates? The club that looked like a surprise contender for seven weeks, or the one that's struggled its way to fourth place in the National League Central? The more important question, however, is this: With the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, where do the Bucs go from here?
"We've been in a lot of games. We haven't been able to make enough plays to get there," general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday morning. "We'll look to see if we can supplement that. Our focus right now is to continue to push this club forward."
Before flying to New York on Sunday night, Hurdle said he would "rearrange some things, probably, with the staff," but didn't mention any specifics. He has already tinkered with the lineup, moving down slumping hitters like Josh Bell and giving more playing time to rookie outfielder Austin Meadows. But there's only so much Hurdle can do when the Pirates, as a team, are hitting .221 with a .631 OPS in June.
For the most part, these are the same players who jumped out to such an impressive start at the plate. Yet for all their early success, only two hitters own an OPS over .800 on the season: Meadows, who debuted at the start of this skid, and catcher Francisco Cervelli, who is on the disabled list with a concussion.
"It's the same guys that threw some big numbers up early. We're not doing it now," Hurdle said. "We're capable. We've got to get the swings in place, the confidence in place. It can be contagious."
If they can't get back on track, it could make for a turbulent summer. The Pirates are a season-high five games below .500, nine games out of first place in the NL Central and now 6 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot. They have a handful of veterans who may draw interest on the trade market, including Harrison, shortstop Jordy Mercer, infielder David Freese and left fielder Corey Dickerson.
"The guys that [have] one and two-plus years potentially with us, we like those players and those are players that we believe are going to help us win this year," Huntington said. "They helped us win the first part of this year, and we believe those players can help us win next year as well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Down and out: Williams got off to a quick start, working around a leadoff single from Jarrod Dyson by inducing a double play two pitches later. But the next batter, Jake Lamb, ripped a single to right and scored when David Peralta crushed a slider a projected 425 feet to right-center field, according to Statcast™.
"Unfortunately, it was the difference in the game," Williams said. "The pitch to Peralta, I didn't think [it] was a bad pitch. If anything, it was a dangerous pitch to the type of hitter he is."
John Ryan Murphy ambushed Williams to lead off the second inning, launching a first-pitch fastball out to left field. Williams could not have been much more effective after that, allowing only one other hit, but a three-run deficit was too much for the slumping Pirates lineup to overcome.
"He paid the price for a couple mistakes," Hurdle said.
The Pirates have now given up 53 runs in the first inning this season, the sixth-highest total in the Majors. Peralta's homer off Williams was the 11th roundtripper the Bucs have allowed in the opening frame. Pittsburgh has permitted more runs in the first than in any other inning so far this season.
HE SAID IT
"You've got to be professionals about it, man. All it takes is one game. It could take one pitch, one play. It might take a series. But the beauty of it is, every day we come in, we've got a chance to make that day, that day if things need to be turned around. It's just about being a professional, showing up every day. That's what we've got to do. We've got to keep showing up. … Especially when a team may not be playing to its full potential, everybody's waiting on that one time to break through." -- Harrison, on how the Pirates can break out of their collective slump
Right-hander Jameson Taillon will be on the mound for the Pirates on Monday as they open a three-game series with the Mets at Citi Field. Like the Pirates, the Mets started hot -- they were 17-9 at the end of April -- but New York is now 13 games under .500. In two career starts against the Mets, Taillon is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Righty Seth Lugo will start for the Mets at 7:10 p.m. ET.