Making the playoffs with an offense that ranks in the bottom third of all major statistical categories isn’t normal. Then again, the Pirates’ entire season hasn’t been “normal.” Out of all the teams in the NL Central, only the Cubs have scored fewer runs (578) than the Pirates (584) this year. The contending teams, the Cardinals and Reds, have scored 732 and 668 runs respectively. The point is that this is not a playoff-ready offense. If the Pirates are going to win come October, the pitching will have to be stellar. Even then, the offense has an affinity for wasting absolute gems from their starters.
This year’s Pirates are eerily similar to the Giants team that won the World Series in 2010. In 2010, the Giants rode one of the best rotations to ever win a World Series through the season. Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez (yes, that Jonathan Sanchez) were all viable aces on any pitching staff. Their offense, just like the Pirates offense, was anemic at best. Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff were the only mainstays in that offense; everyone else was a question mark. The Giants put everything together that year in October, winning the World Series on some timely and clutch hitting.
The Pirates are no different, and will need their bats to heat-up much like the Giants’ bats did to win. It’s not a leap to compare the Pirates’ current pitching staff to the Giants’ in 2010. Burnette and Liriano are clearly reliable aces. They have a bad outing every once in a while, but they are reliable and durable. Morton looks like the real deal. He can be counted on to give the Pirates a few solid starts in October. The true difference maker in the staff is Gerrit Cole. He has been nothing short of dominant in September, posting a 1.38 ERA in the month of September along with an absurd WHIP of 1.00. A big criticism of Cole is that he hasn’t been able to strike batters out, the very thing he was so touted for as he came up through the Pirates’ farm system. In September, he struck out 33 batters in 26 innings of work while only walking nine batters. There’s also this interesting piece of information:
The real question mark in this rotation is Locke. The guy just can’t seem to figure it out. His struggles with his command are well documented, and he doesn’t look like he his even close to figuring it out.
The rotation needs to keep pitching like they have been. Every pitcher will need to be at their best. If Locke can’t figure his command out, let Jeanmar start. It may not be a stretch to assume Locke won’t even be on the final playoff roster.
Yes, Morneau and Byrd add two reliable bats to the offense, but run production is still anemic at best. If the pitching can pile up some quality starts and the offense comes through with some timely production, this team can win in the playoffs. Byrd is a huge addition to the lineup and McCutchen should win MVP, but everyone else is so hot and cold. They consistently get to average and below average pitchers, but aces baffle them. Guys like Kershaw, Wainwright, Greinke, Shelby Miller, and others have and will continue to dominate the Pirates. The offense will need to find a way to beat pitchers like these in the playoffs, because if they don’t they are going to have a hard time winning a seven-game series against some of the best teams in the NL.
There’s really no predicting what this team will do in the playoffs. They could lose in the wildcard game, or they could win the NLCS. The Pirates have proven their ability to beat contending teams. They also are very inconsistent. The focus needs to be on taking care of business against the Reds right now.