Hot Pittsburgh Pirates Can Still Improve


Jun 14, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez (24) singles in the second inning in a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Behind solid starting pitching and despite the Marlins preying on the shark tank, the Pirates offense has been the story this June. The team has won four of five, five of seven and is 17-10 in their last 27 games. The club looks poised to make a run in the National League with the Reds and Johnny Cueto coming to PNC Park tomorrow.

The month of June has been all about the offense, including plating 15 runs against the Brewers ten days ago.  The Pirates actually started playing better in May–since May 2 the club is 24-17.  The Pirates have banged out at least nine hits in seven straight games going 85-for-262 which is good for a .324 average.  But they can still get even better.

The team is getting on base and doing what they were unable to do consistently in April and May which is plating those runners–74 times a Pirates player has touched home plate this month.  But they can still get even better.

Jun 14, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) hits a three run home run against the Miami Marlins in the fourth inning at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, Andrew McCutchen is leading the way as he has a mind blowing 16 extra base hits and 54 total bases this month with nine doubles and seven bombs over 14 games.  The Bucs dream outfield is now in place and producing at an eye-popping rate.  With Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte batting in front of Cutch, opposing pitching coaches are going to need to hit the Nyquil hard in order to sleep.

The key to making a run is facing the music regarding two players in the Bucs lineup, and possibly a third.  Third base and first base production must improve both offensively and defensively.  While we have criticized Hurdle for overmanaging in the past, we think these two suggestions are rather well known.

Sure, Pedro Alvarez is hitting .300 in June and everyone should know that El Toro needs three bombs to reach 100 for his career.  (Since 2012, the Bucs sluggers’ 77 cannon balls trails only Giancarlo Stanton who has 79.)

The man who had to borrow Hawaiian shirts for the Miami road trip, Ike Davis has hit well at PNC Park.  He has gone 28-for-88, usually from the four spot in the lineup at PNC.  But on the road, he has been just awful.

But the bottom line is neither player has hit well against southpaws.

(And even Russell Martin has struggled against lefties while Chris Stewart owns southpaws and rightfully got the start against Randy Wolf on Saturday–but we admit those were the first balls we saw Stewart hit hard…well, ever.  But perhaps giving Stewart a start regardless of when a southpaw is on the mound rather than just playing him on Sundays would be wise.)

Both Davis and Alvarez have been below average defensively.   It seems unlikely that Clint Hurdle will react to small sample sizes, but Davis is hitting .050 against left handers (20 at bats) while Alvarez sits at .213 in 47 at bats. Alvarez and Davis need to find the pine when a left hander heads to the mound.  Gaby Sanchez is a much better offensive option with his .326 mark, and Josh Harrison hits lefties at a .310 clip.

But we think that Sanchez is also a defensive improvement for the Pirates.  Does anyone else think Gaby picks that throw from Alvarez yesterday?

By focusing on the platoon options that are available for the Bucs, the offense can improve a bit more and maybe save a base runner or two late in games when the leaky shark tank heads to the mound.