The Pirates are coming off a very nice homestand going 6-3 and getting themselves to 5 games under .500, which may not seem like a big deal to other teams or their fans but to the PBC and fans, it’s a huge deal. First, consider the 3 teams that the Pirates faced in the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. This could have almost been the nail in the coffin if the Pirates were to have lost all 3 series and the continued talk of Gregory Polanco coming to town would have died completely.
Instead, the Pirates have slowly been climbing themselves out of the enormous hole they dug and have actually started playing better baseball. The homestand could have been even better had they swept the Cardinals and won on Sunday Night Baseball but a glaring problem stuck it’s ugly head up again and the Pirates left the bases loaded with 0 outs, down by 1 run and did not score anything. This is still a major problem with not seemingly having clutch hits by clutch players.
I would have to believe the Pirates will be an even stronger team once players like Russell Martin and Jason Grilli return from their injuries and when Polanco finally arrives, there will be no more excuses for the team to not win plenty more than they lose. I have to believe that some of the pitching staff woes will get better once Martin is back to calling the games. Tony Sanchez has done a great job in his duties since Martin went down but he’s just not quite the game caller that Martin is and he doesn’t throw out runners the way Martin can.
Grilli’s return lengthens the bullpen and puts Melancon back in the 8th inning and Watson back to the 7th inning. If the starters can get through the 6th, we are pretty comfortable in the later innings with Grilli than without him. Granted, his play was superb prior to his injury but I have a feeling that Grilli will pitch with more purpose than he did to start the season.
As far as Polanco, I’m pretty excited to be able to go see him this coming weekend for a couple of games and see up close how good this kid really can be. It’s one thing to watch him during an MiLB game broadcast, it’s completely different to watch him in person so I’m looking forward to that. Once he does arrive in Pittsburgh, it will also lengthen the lineup and add another bat who can hit for a high average. I think when Polanco comes up, Hurdle could move Marte back to the leadoff spot and put Polanco 2nd knowing he is up right before McCutchen.
However, I’d like to see the following line-up when Polanco does come up.
- Marte – LF
- McCutchen – CF
- Polanco – RF
- Alvarez – 3B
- Walker – 2B
- Martin – C
- Davis/Sanchez – 1B
- Mercer – SS
In my line-up, Marte is protected by McCutchen and if Polanco is as good as advertised, he would help protect McCutchen a little bit or be able to drive in runs and taking a lot of pressure off Pedro when he comes up to bat. Pedro seems to be a better hitter when it’s less pressure on him to perform. He doesn’t do well in situations when he has to have a huge hit. If a run or two has already scored in front of him, his perception changes perhaps and he can hit more relaxed.
I think Walker is an ideal hitter batting 5th because he does have some power, can hit for average and does pretty well under pressure. Having Ike Davis or Gaby Sanchez batting 7th just shows how stretched out this line-up will be, even if Polanco bats leadoff or 2nd. I wouldn’t prefer Polanco to bat leadoff and he has been moved to cleanup in the minors so we’ll see if there is a reason for that. I wouldn’t suspect the Pirates will put Polanco cleanup, at least not until Pedro moves on to another team.
I like that the Pirates brought back the Z because it gives such a connection between Pirates players and the fans. I think the reason the past couple years they have tried to go away from it is because it wasn’t created by McCutchen and I think he wants “his thing” to the connection. This season, it started off with the guns thrown into the holster and when the team wasn’t going well, McCutchen brought back the Z. There is a little bit of ego hitting right there and I think the Z is pretty cool and should just stick with the team from year to year.
Taking a quick peek at the rest of May for the Pirates, I’ll give a prediction for each series and where I think the Pirates will be once the month ends.
Starting 5/13 – the Pirates open a 6 game road series at Milwaukee and the first time since “the fight” that the two teams have faced each other. My 1st prediction is that first batter to get hit, both teams will instantly be warned. The Brewers have kind of faded a little bit from the hot start they had but no one really thought they would win 120 games but they haven’t been terrible either. Ryan Braun is expected to return to the team for this series but with Cole, Liriano and Rodriguez all on the hill and looking to get strong starts, I suspect the Pirates will win 2 of 3 for another series win. For the weekend, the team head to the Bronx and face the Yankees. I was shocked when I read about the team being in New York for a weekend series but that shows how relevant last season made the Pirates. There is Volquez vs Phelps, Morton vs Kuroda and Cole vs Nuno. I can see the Pirates taking another 2 of 3 as the Yankees are still good but dealing with some issues and we just miss facing Tanaka.
Starting 5/20 – the Pirates start a 6 game homestand vs the Orioles for 2 and Nationals for 4. I’m thinking a split for both series here but it wouldn’t surprise me to sweep the Orioles and lose 3 of 4 vs the Nats. Still gives a homestand split. The following week finishes up the month on the road once again in New York to face the Mets before travelling cross country to face the Dodgers. I feel the Pirates will take 2 of 3 @ the Mets while losing 3 of 4 to the Dodgers. Let’s add all of this up and see how the Pirates close out the Month.
My Prediction is the Pirates will go 10-9 the rest of the month and finish at 26-30, 4 games under .500 with Polanco about to arrive right after the San Diego series in early June.