May 28, 2014; New York, NY, USA;Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer (10) misses the tag on New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (28) after a stolen base in the third inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Fixing The Pittsburgh Pirates Problems Before It Is Too Late

Calm down Pittsburgh Pirates fans, the season is not over. Simply losing two straight to a lackluster Mets team does not signify the end of the season by any means. That being said, 23-29 is not exactly the record that you want going into a four game series at the hot Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Pirates need to make a few moves to sure up the remainder of the season and to prove that last year was not a fluke. Not necessarily make it back to the playoffs, but failing to win at least 81 games this season could prove to detrimental to the franchise and its fan base.

May 25, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Chris Stewart (19) returns behind the plate against the Washington Nationals during the fourth inning at PNC Park. The Nationals won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for the Chris Stewart experiment to come to its rightful conclusion. The 32 year-old journeyman is no longer worthy of a spot on the Pirates. He is a career .217 batter and his batting average this season is quickly dropping, down to .245 following Wednesday’s game with the Mets. He has also been unreliable behind the plate, failing to throw base stealers out and allowing numerous wild pitches.

Tony Sanchez is a capable backup and has shown that he belongs in the majors. In 72 at bats this season Sanchez is batting .278 with two home runs and 12 RBIs. While in 49 at bats Stewart has only secured a batting average of .245 with no home runs and three RBIs.

The Pirates understandably want to provide Sanchez with as many starting opportunities as possible in order for him to continue to develop. Right now though, Sanchez gives the Pirates the best chance to win, each time that they send Stewart out there the integrity of their lineup and defense is significantly compromised. Sanchez has also come through in numerous clutch pinch-hitting situations.

If the Pirates front office wants to keep Sanchez buried in AAA then Clint Hurdle needs to make the wise decision to not play Stewart until Russell Martin needs a day off.

Josh Harrison struggled this series with the Mets going just 1 for 13. Harrison should remain the starting right fielder through the Dodgers series and potentially the Padres series, however if he continues to struggle at the plate, it would be wise to call up Gregory Polanco. Polanco is batting .345 with six home runs and 43 RBIs in AAA, and seems to be ready for the big leagues. There is no reason to keep him in AAA when the crop of right fielders is playing so poorly.

May 26, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6), center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) and right fielder Josh Harrison (5) celebrate their win against the New York Mets at Citi Field. The Pirates defeated the Mets 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Tabata and Travis Snider have both had opportunities to prove their ability to be an every day right fielders and both have put up dismal stats. Harrison has had a great stretch of games in the month of May, but as May winds down he is slumping a bit. Harrison may not be an everyday player, and that is not a slate against him. There are many major leaguers who are not capable of starting every day, Harrison may be one of them.

Yes, this piece is extremely harsh on Harrison, some of it pre-emptive and unwarranted, but with this team you have to look at future production just as much as you look at current production.
Francisco Liraino was a rock for the Pirates last season but has had his fair share of struggles this season. As Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in a piece on May 25 after Liriano’s 5-2 loss to the Washington Nationals, Liriano’s slide has been the icing on the cake for a rotation that has struggled all season.

The rotation has easily been the biggest let down for the Pirates this season. The decision to not re-sign AJ Burnett looks worse and worse with each poor outing from a starting pitcher on the staff. Burnett’s stats this season are less than impressive but they are substantially better than those of Liriano and Edinson Volquez. Charlie Morton at 1-7 has fallen victim to poor offensive outputs recently as he has trimmed his ERA to 3.29.

The answer to fixing the rotation is not as easy as Pirates fans would like. Gerrit Cole has pitched admirably this season, Brandon Cumpton has shown tremendous potential and Charlie Morton is safe for now. As for Liriano, if he continues to struggle, it may be worth shutting him down for a start or two to try to figure out what is wrong. The same goes for Volquez. The Pirates do have some starting pitching depth, not necessarily appealing options but options for a spot start nonetheless.

As a Pittsburgh blogger wrote following Wandy Rodriguez’s designation last week, the future of the Pirates rotation is up in the air.

Jeff Locke was an all-star last season and has shown that he can make meaningful starts at the major league level. The Pirates can give him a shot and hope that pre-all-star break Locke shows up. Prospect Casey Sadler has also been quite impressive in AAA and is worthy of an opportunity to start at the major league.

The Pirates still have potential to turn this season into a winning season and these few weaknesses are easy to fix. The positive is that with these areas of weakness the team is still only 7.5 games back of the first place Brewers and only six games under .500. Expect the Pirates to continue to hover around this area until they make some changes, until then, the best a fan can hope for is the team to remain within striking distance of .500.

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Tags: Chris Stewart Edinson Volquez Francisco Liriano Josh Harrison Pittsburgh Pirates

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