Pittsburgh’s collapse gets an exclamation point with no-no

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The Pirates appeared to hit rock bottom on Wednesday, when they were shutout primarily by a pitcher they gave up on waivers to the Mets prior to the start of the season (Jeremy Hefner pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits, before rookie Jeurys Familia finished up). As it turned out, that was still just a warmup.

On Friday evening, the Pirates were no-hit by a guy named Homer. A guy who had one career shutout in 109 major league starts. And you’ll never guess who that had come against. In fact, both of Homer Bailey’s complete games had come versus the Pirates. He’s now 8-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 12 starts against the Pirates and 30-31 with a 4.81 ERA in 98 starts against everyone else.

The loss was the Pirates’ 81st of the season, which guarantees they won’t snap their record skid with a winning season. They could still conceivably win five straight and finish at .500 for the first time in 20 years. But, let’s face it, that’s not happening. The Pirates are 6-20 in September after going 11-17 in August.

As for Bailey, he deserves plenty of credit. He fanned 10 and faced one batter over the minimum. His postseason rotation spot was still in doubt as of a couple of weeks ago, but he had moved well ahead of Mike Leake of late even before tonight’s showing. He’s taken advantage of a very weak schedule of late, but 13-10 with a 3.75 ERA in 204 innings is nothing to sneeze at. His no-hitter tonight was the Reds’ first since Tom Browning threw a perfect game in 1988. Incredibly, it was the first no-hitter versus the Pirates since the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson threw one in 1971.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.