Now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have solved how to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Clint Hurdle moves along to his next task. Getting the Bucs back to .500.
In order to reach that mark some serious aligning of the stars will need to happen.
1. Unleash Hell
The Pirates offense ranks 14th in most categories. It’s bad. Being 14th in the NL with a .310 on-base percentage and .364 slugging tells the tale of the Bucs offense in 2011. Especially when combined with the third most strikeouts at 1023 and just 396 walks.
The Pirates offense has failed.
We won’t try and tell you something you don’t already know. But for the Pirates to reach .500 we feel the offense will need to carry the load.
Offensive production will be needed of the sorts that we have yet to see this season. So where will it come from? We look no further than the outfield of Andrew McCutchen and wingmen Jose Tabata and Alex Presley.
If those three can put up above average on base numbers going forward, the Pirates will reach .500 by the slimest of margins.
Fans can’t depend on Lee and Ludwick to put the Pirates over the top so the slugging will need to come from a combination of Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, and Ryan Doumit.
Splash on a little bit of snake oil and Hurdle will be a cult hero in Pittsburgh. It will take some serious luck, but the Pirates have the horses to do just enough to break the streak now.
If somehow slugger Pedro Alvarez can make the necessary adjustments, Pirates fans could be rejoicing at PNC Park in September just as Matt Diaz predicted before the season.
It won’t get the Pirates any more front page USA Today coverage, but it would allow Pirates fans some sense of redemption after such a Kennywood-like roller coaster of a season.
2. Bullpen Redemption
The bullpen will need to return to the above average production the team saw prior to the All Star break. Expanding the rosters will help Hurdle immensely. The first name called from Indy should be ballsy, flame throwing left handed pitcher Justin Wilson. Can the rookie pitch effectively and trust his above average stuff coming out of the bullpen this season on the major league level? Dipping his toe in the water of the big leagues is something we’ve been looking forward to since watching Wilson at Bradenton.
Wilson threw 142.2 innings in 2010, he currently sits at 119.2 and serves as Dean Traynor’s 99-mile per hour closer at Indy. It would be hard to see Wilson adding many more innings to that workload while at AAA, so we can certainly see him getting the call to the bigs.
The second question mark would be Evan Meek. Is he really healthy and if so, when can he arrive at PNC Park?
Chris Leroux should be given an opportunity to prove his worth. He is one of the few pitchers the Pirates have that you might not be aware that has swing and miss stuff. In a putridly small sample, the right hander has ten strikeouts in eight innings with the Bucs. While at Indy, he struckout 57 in 61 innings.
Tony Watson has been an example of a failed starter that has found success in the Pirates bullpen this season. Watson threw 111.1 innings for Altoona last season. This year Watson has thrown 28.1 innings for the Pirates and 34.1 at AAA. Watson’s arm should have plenty of innings to finish the year strong.
Providing some rest for the bullpen could be the difference between stopping the 18-year pain and coming up just short. Hurdle will have a number of options at his disposal to achieve this goal.
How he manages them is another story, let’s trust it’s a good one. Because if the Pirates can put together a bullpen with the talent currently in house, a few millions could be saved, and reinvested in the offense for 2012. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates take this approach.
We would much rather see the Pirates invest time and energy in seeing what left handers the team has now. It would seem much more logical than reaching for grindered arms like a Joe Beimel or Scott Olsen in the offseason.
So looking down the barrel of the rest of the season, the Pirates bullpen is full of men that have something to prove. Those hard throwers like Jose Veras and Chris Resop want to show Neal Huntington that they can be the work horses. The other guys like McCutchen and Grilli will be out to prove that they won’t be passed over by youngsters.
It’s a perfect storm for Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage. Young arms out to prove something mixed with veterans out for redemption. They all get to work toward getting the ball to Joel Hanrahan.
Some say Hanranator has a lot to prove too.
3. Starter Survival
The one major thing that strikes fear in our heart is the number of innings three big names in the Pirates future have thrown. Charlie Morton, James McDonald and Jeff Karstens could reach the danger zone soon. We think this wouldn’t be a big concern, but history shows us otherwise.
JMac has thrown 139 innings in 2011. He has passed last years total and will now continue to add innings on an arm that appears fully recovered from earlier this season. (God, let’s trust that is the case)
Morton is nearing his innings total from last season when he threw nearly 160 innings split evenly between AAA Indy and Pittsburgh. Morton has thrown 139.2 innings headed into his start tonight against St. Louis. His new arm slot raises questions for us as well, wondering just how his shoulder will react to the change.
Jeff Karstens has pitched 148.1 innings this season. He pitched 122 last season and 108 in 2009. Sound the siren men.
The reason we bring up the workload is simple. Morton, McDonald, and Karstens appear to be the best pitchers on the Pirates staff. Neither one of them is especially thick in their physical proportions (the ones we can see at least) and that, well, that scares us a bit.
Ross Ohlendorf will need to catch up to the Pirates pitchers pulling the share of the load this year. He will need to prove that he can effectively get through an opponents batting order twice before we believe Ross will be a starter next year. Ohlendorf has a great deal to prove as the season comes to a conclusion. Any production from Ohlendorf would be considered a bonus.
Brad Lincoln has an opportunity to grow during the final month of the season. If he is able to apply everything that the coaching staff has been working with him to improve upon, Lincoln immediately would be a contender for a starting spot in 2012. His performance against the Brewers gave fans a glimpse of what he can do and a glimmer of hope that the number one pick can start producing for the big league club.
4. Indy Surprises
Can anyone at Indy be a difference maker down the stretch? It’s usually not something the Pirates have been able to have success with, but is their luck changing? Will Aaron Thompson continue to pitch well? Can Garrett Olson figure it out at the big league level? Is Jose Ascanio and his filthy stuff finally healed and for real?
I’m going with Jose Ascanio as the guy who makes an impact. Don’t know why I just typed that, but we will go with it. He might see some action in mop up, less leveraged situations I guess.
The Pirates defense has been a surprise for us this season. A stretch run toward .500 won’t be reached without the defense remaining solid. The one name that keeps popping into our head is Chase d’Arnaud. If d’Arnaud can display even average defensive play, after being such a butcher early this year, his ticket for a 2012 opening day roster spot could be sealed.
Unleash the hounds, Clint.