Pittsburgh Pirates – 75 Games Later, One Question Looms Large


75 games later, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t where they thought they would be.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 75 Games Later, One Question Looms Large

The Pirates are 75 games into the 2014 season, and despite some great starting pitching the past two weeks, we think the Bucs have some work to do.    The excuses are out there for this ball club, but thankfully, we haven’t heard many of them pop up to explain away the pain that 2014 has become.

Jun 19, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) looks on from the dugout against the Cincinnati Reds during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 4-3 in twelve innings. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If you were making an excuse t-shirt for the 2014 Bucs it would be a busy design:

The Bucs have suffered some injuries to key players.  Gerrit Cole, Russell Martin, Neil Walker, Jason Grilli, Francisco Liriano…the list goes on….

The Pirates have played a tough schedule.   One of the toughest in Major League Baseball.

The Pirates have played more one run games than anyone in MLB.  Being involved in 31 games decided by a run or less takes it toll on the psyche of everyone on the ball club.

The pitching sucks.

The offense isn’t clutch.

Pedro Alvarez doesn’t hit long balls anymore.

The base running makes the acronym TOOTBLAN seem tame, perhaps TOOTBLAD is more suitable.

The defense has been horrid.

But never mind the excuses.  In the end, it all adds up to disappointment for the Pirates.  The club is 37-38 as they head into Tampa today.   But with the club expressing positive reports on the injury front, is there reason to be optimistic? We firmly believe so.

The Pirates starters have been among the worst in MLB.

Outside of the Colorado Rockies, the Pirates starting pitching staff is the worst in baseball.   Fangraphs displays the painful details in this nifty graph.    The starters are doing just what your eyes tell you they are doing.  Fewer strikeouts, more walks, and a generous amount of well hit balls by the bad guys have led to more home runs than anyone imagined.

But Gerrit Cole, the teams best young starter, is going to return from the disabled list this weekend.  Although he is only one player, the move will create a ripple effect among the arms on the staff.

Where will the best pitchers be starting this Sunday?  Let’s trust still in Pittsburgh.  Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton and Vance Worley have provided strong starts recently and the Bucs brass is crossing their fingers that it continues.  Outside of what felt like the thirty-ith time the Pirates threw a breaking ball into Adam Rizzo’s wheelhouse, Worley has been stellar.

Looking at the Pirates starters numbers on FanGraphs, all Cumpton has done is put up the most wins above replacement on the staff.  Rumor is he could be headed back to Triple-A because he has options–that seems foolish.

Last year’s All-Star Jeff Locke has pitched like a man possessed in three starts since returning from the minors-17 strikeouts and just one walk.  Call  it attitude, call it focus, call it maturity–whatever it is, the southpaw has meant the world to a rotation that was hanging on the second rope awaiting a knock out punch.

The Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen needs a life preserver.

Besides the New York Mets, the Pirates bullpen is the worst in the National League.   Fangraphs displays the painful details in this nifty graph.   Tony Watson is having a breakout season, but too many other awful outings from the Shark Tank have the Bucs looking up in the NL Central.

The Pirates bullpen needs improvement.  That’s the bottom line.  The team should be able to add an arm or two from outside the organization as the deadline approaches.  Of course, the club could also shift starters like Worley to the bullpen should it need to—and that would be really interesting.

Clint Hurdle has had a challenging 2014 season.

The real surprise has been the Pirates offense.  I guess we should have seen it coming.  Clint Hurdle said his goal in 2014 was to improve the offense.   The team can boast that it has five players that have had hitting streaks of ten games or more with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco swinging the stick very well.

The Pirates have gone 25-18 since May 6 which is the best record in the National League.  The frustrating part is the team had– at the least– three more victories that they allowed to slip away from their grasp.   But looking ahead, the offense is cruising in fourth gear with Jordy Mercer coming to life at the plate in the month of June and hitting well on the road as well.  The reigning NL MVP is destroying pitching.

And oh, that Polanco kid really does look like he can win the NL Rookie of the Year too.  Polanco had an 11-game hitting streak to start his career as a big leaguer and reached base safely in his first twelve starts.  So yeah….he’s made the impact the team has needed since finally joining the team.

The team will get Neil Walker back in the lineup and the biggest surprise of all has been what Josh Harrison has been able to do at the plate.  JHay has gone 53-for-163 in his 39 starts and has been 27-for-70 with runners on base.

So, adding it all up, if the Pirates just had some consistent pitching they could make a run.  Pitching like they have had in the past 14 games.  Pitching from their starters who have allowed just 32 runs in their last 85 innings pitched–with eight of those belonging to one poor outing by Volquez.

The big question that must be keeping the Bucs brass up at night is this–  can the Bucs get that type of starting pitching consistently or is what has happened in the past two weeks a mirage?

We think it’s smoke and mirrors, and the Bucs should explore the market.  The sooner the better too.  What do you think?