Duke, Maholm and Perez have struggled

As the glow of their midsummer night's All-Star dream fades, fans in Pittsburgh wonder what the second half of the season holds for them, as well as what went wrong in the first half. Perhaps the most disappointing element of the Pirates' collapse this year has been the failure of their young left-handed starters, who were supposed to be a major strength for the club. Pittsburgh was so confident in its 2006 pitching staff, particularly its young rotation, that it spent its limited budget in the offseason on bolstering its lineup.

The trade for expensive first baseman Sean Casey and the signing of two other veteran free agents, outfielder Jeromy Burnitz and third baseman Joe Randa, were designed to give the Pittsburgh pitchers reliable run support. That hasn't happened -- the Pirates are tied for 12th in the NL in offense at 4.6 runs per game. Casey is hitting for average but not for power, and neither Randa nor Burnitz has played well at all.

However, Pittsburgh's trio of young left-handers -- Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Oliver Perez -- all have ERAs north of 5.00, and their struggles have really surprised and disappointed both the team and the fans in the Steel City. Although the Bucs' offense is no great shakes, it is the pitching that has really crippled the club: At the break, the Pirates' staff ERA was 4.93, next to last in the NL.