The Pirates are in position to make the playoffs, sitting on the top wild card position. Obviously they’d rather win the division than have to deal with the possibility of playing in the Wild Card game.
Either way, the Pirates have staked a spot out for the playoffs, and all but clinched it (they have an eight game lead on the third wild card contender, Washington, with seventeen games left). The determining factor of whether or not the Pirates will make a run in the playoffs is the presence of Starling Marte.
This is not to say that Marte is the most important player on the Pirates, anybody who’s watched baseball this year can tell you that’s Andrew McCutchen, but what Marte has provided this season has been viciously underrated. Marte has provided a strong average out of the leadoff spot, timely power, and gold glove defense.
Marte’s WAR rating (5.2 on the season) is higher than each of the following players: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig. He ranks tenth among all N.L. hitters in WAR, two tenths of a win behind Buster Posey, the reigning N.L. MVP.
Marte’s ability to shore up the leadoff spot will be huge for the Pirates. If Marte can come back to play as the starting left fielder, that moves the hot bat of Jose Tabata to the bench, giving the Pirates a strong fourth outfield option off the bench.
It would give them a leadoff hitter with the second highest OBP on the team.
It would provide gold glove quality defense, and an arm that can only be rivaled by a howitzer.
It would provide them with a hitter who can turn any single into extra bases, either by stretching it on the initial play, or stealing a bag, as he’s done successfully on thirty-sox occasions this year. There is nobody else on the Pirates roster right now that can start providing that kind of help to the club.
Wandy Rodriguez returning from his injury would certainly be important, but Wandy’s impact would not be anywhere near that of Marte. If the Pirates are going to make a run deep into October, Starling Marte is the first piece of the puzzle.
The undeniable X factor going into the final homestand of the season, and eventually the playoffs is Starling Marte. Let’s hope for the sake of the Pirates that he can return soon.