Jul 2, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez (17) and second baseman Neil Walker (18) and relief pitcher Mark Melancon (35) celebrate after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-1 at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The surging Pittsburgh Pirates are racking up wins at a feverish pace–the best baseball in the big leagues since early May. The Bucs have been led by Andrew McCutchen as they won 34 of their last 56 games. The question every Pirates fan wants to know is will it be enough?
Using last season as a barometer, the Pirates were 52-32 after 84 games. This year, the club is 44-40 after 84 games. The Pirates finished 94-68 last year. In other words from the 85th game until the end of the season they went 42-36.
The Bucs played awful baseball early on as the got just ten wins in their first 28 games, but the time to make up for that is now and the team is doing exactly that.
It’s surprising stuff. Check out a few fascinating facts (to me at least)
The team picked up Vance Worley out of the Minnesota scrap heap for a player to be named later or cash. The Vanimal has proved everyone wrong pitching into the seventh inning in all three of his starts in the Pirates rotation. If this continues as the Bucs look for their first sweep of the season tonight against the Arizona Diamondbacks, is this rotation set in stone for a post trade deadline push?
Jeff Locke has looked like the 2013 All-Star. The southpaw continues to fill up the zone and has allowed only five walks–fixing his major challenge from last season. Locke looks like he won’t be heading to AAA any time soon.
The success of Locke and Worley seemingly leaves Francisco Liriano, a dominant pitcher for the Bucs in 2013, on the outside looking in when he returns from injury. Or does it? The Pirates three remaining starters have some question marks of their own.
Jun 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) looks on in the dugout against the New York Mets during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The ace of the staff is still looking to put it all together. Gerrit Cole was knocked around in his first start back from right shoulder fatigue. The must watch game of the Bucs season is July 4th when Cole gets the ball against the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s going to be riveting to see if it was just rust for Cole, which we think it was, or something more. Should the right hander the Pirates need to carry this pitching staff going forward put up a double digit strikeout line tomorrow night–it would be better than fireworks for most Buccos fans.
The massive question mark heading into the season–Edinson Volquez has proved to be a serviceable back end starter. The right hander has allowed bombs, walked a few too many opposing hitters and then bounced back with strong outings as breath holding Pittsburgh fans waited to crucify him. For the Pirates to continue their hot streak and close the gap with the Brewers, #VolquezPower is going to need to find some consistency.
Charlie Morton continues to have to work in front of less than stellar defense, but it always seems like we have to say that for some reason. Brandon Cumpton allowed two earned runs in his last two starts (14 innings) and was promptly sent back to Indianapolis.
The Pirates have proved the starting pitching depth can get it done, but there are still a few head scratchers when one looks closer. It’s still primarily the same starters that weren’t looking so great at the beginning of the season and continue to battle the ‘one shitty inning’ syndrome.
Gregory Polanco has been the gas on the Pirates offensive fire. The 22-year old leads all rookies with a .392 on-base since June 1 and has reached base safely in all but two of his first 21 games as a Major Leaguer with 12 walks, three bombs and 15 runs batting in the leadoff spot in Clint Hurdle’s lineup. The 6’5″ outfielder looks like he can be the Rookie of the Year and there is no reason to believe he will slow down any time soon.
Sure the Pirates have question marks, but they been able to win despite them thanks to an offense that has the highest on-base-percentage since June 1. The offense is hitting its’ stride. Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez can put it all the way over the top should the front office look to not make a splashy move at the trade deadline because with players like Josh Harrison, Russell Martin and Jordy Mercer chipping in– the Pirates lineup seems, well-gulp-formidable.
It’s going to be important for the Bucs to remain on a roll. The Brewers have a commanding lead in the NL Central despite the Bucs hot streak making it vital for the Pirates to continue to win games moving forward–maybe at the pace that had them 20 games over .500 at this point last season.