The Pittsburgh Pirates are fifty games into the 2014 season. The results have been less than expected from the organization that relied on self improvement rather than upgrading the roster this off season.
The Bucs are in third place with a record of 23-27. They are chasing the St. Louis Cardinals, which everyone assumed, and the surprising Milwaukee Brewers. The two teams ahead of the Pirates seem to be heading in the wrong direction as the Brew Crew are 3-7 in their last ten while the Cards are 7-3 after a grueling road schedule to open the season. A big reason the Pirates are in third place is their slow start in the month of April, due in large part to beat downs from the Brewers. The injury to Russell Martin didn’t help. Getting little from the players in right field hasn’t helped the cause either.
But there have been bright spots for the #ThirdPlaceBucs. Neil Walker has been a stud like we thought he would be. Ike Davis has been a big get. Andrew McCutchen has hit well. The Iceman Tony Watson has emerged as a shutdown bullpen arm.
Of course like any under performing team, the Pirates have many problems, but three key areas bother us.
1. The first problem was evident after 28 games. But it was breaking out again yesterday against the Met. You might know what we are talking about, it’s ‘The Pittsburgh Pirates Epidemic.’ If you aren’t familar with the epidemic, click that link to learn more.
2. The pitching has went from one of the best staffs in baseball last season to one of the worst thus far in 2014. In most of the statistics you will find the Pirates pitching staff near the bottom. It’s a testament to the offense that the team has collected 23 wins. The damage has come from the pitchers allowing the long ball after allowing so few last season.
It’s a problem that seems entirely correctable if the staff would pitch smarter, take a breath, make a smart pitch–not a overthrown fastball. But without a starter that has had sustained success in the majors it’s hard to imagine the staff turning it around anytime soon. One fact is that it will simply improve by subtracting Wandy Rodriguez.
A.J. Burnett was the leadership guy. The pitcher who had success in the big leagues. The pitcher who pitched so damn well most every start with the Bucs–we won’t talk about his luck against the Cardinals, or the fact that Hurdle left him on the bump to die. We all know how the Burnett thing went down, we just have to let it go. It’s pathetic.
Looking at the staff after 50 games, Francisco Liriano seems to be pitching through a groin injury. In years past, Frank has pitched better as the weather warms up, so at least there’s that. Charlie Morton can’t seem to put it all together in order to become a solid starter the team can count on start after start. Edinson Volquez started off so damn hot. It was #VolquezPower. But the Edinson Volquez Fan Club memberships have plummeted after some poor performances in recent starts, including giving up so damn many home runs.
The upside could come from Gerrit Cole and Brandon Cumpton, both young right handers. The concept of a pitcher who has been-there-done-that mentoring Cole or Cumpton is lost. It probably doesn’t mean a whole lot, but the fact that a proven pitcher is absent from the Pirates staff is scary moving forward. But don’t get us wrong, we think simply by looking in the mirror Cole and Cumpton will figure it out.
3. The Pirates base running and defense has been really bad. I mean really bad. It’s hard to watch after seeing the team play so well defensively in 2013.
The Bucs aren’t where they want to be after fifty games, but more help is on the way. The key will be putting themselves in position to make a run. The offense must improve and that needs to come from Starling ‘swing and miss’ Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Jordy Mercer. Improvement from those three players when combined with Gregory Polanco–who will be the runaway Rookie of the Year if he ever arrives, could easily be enough to battle it out for the NL Central title.
The big unknown is the pitching. Like we said, none of the starting five have shown consistency at the Major League level. Another starter is going to be needed and that could be 2013 All-Star Jeff Locke, but the southpaw is still walking too many batters in Indianapolis. It could also be right handers Casey Sadler or Vance Worley– another patented Pirates scrap heap project.
Will they be good enough? That’s the big question.