The Pittsburgh Pirates are officially out of the month of April and bluntly speaking, considering the way they played, they have to be happy coming out of it 12-10.
The bats have been disturbingly quiet in the first frame of the year. The Pirates are scraping the bottom of the barrel in some of the most telling offensive statistics. The pitching on the other hand has been the exact opposite. Many experts believed that coming into the season the Pirate’s offense would drag a suspect pitching staff through the regular season, but it’s not been the case up to this point.
As the numbers would indicate, Pittsburgh’s hurlers have been the sole reason their heads are above water.
|Batting Category||Total||MLB Rank (30 teams)||NL Rank (15 teams)|
|On Base %||0.278||T-29th||T-14th|
|Pitching Category||Total||MLB Rank (30 teams)||NL Rank (15 teams)|
The Pirates’ pitching staff is trailing only the Cardinals in most of the major defensive categories in the National League. The starting rotation has 14 quality starts out of 22 opportunities in the month of April, the ERA is a miniscule 2.90, and opponents are only batting .238 against them.
This production has been a trademark for the Pirates over their two winning seasons and is what Neal Huntington builds his franchise around. Pitching. Huntington has done a masterful job of piecing together veteran starting pitchers around a young core of talent and he continues to hit on nearly every acquisition.
A.J. Burnett, Edinson Volquez, and Vance Worley have proven to be excellent free agent compliments to the core starters that include Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano, and Jeff Locke over the last few years.
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Huntington also has built a bullpen around power. The Pirate sharktank is stocked with arms that wear down the opposition when called upon. Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon have been the mainstays in a group known to shut down teams in the late innings. Despite occasional hiccups by all three, they have been an extremely effective shut down trio.
With the acquisition of Antonio Bastardo, Rob Scahill, Radhames Liz, and Arquimedes Caminero, Huntington has uncovered weapons for nearly every scenario. The unsung hero in the bullpen has been surprisingly Rob Scahill. In eight innings of work, Scahill has eight strikeouts and has only given up one earned run. The others have proven to be strikeout experts that have been spotty at times, but effective nonetheless. The depth of arms in AAA also gives the Pirates a multitude of options for later in the season.
The Pirates offense continues to have difficulty with consistency. Coming into the year, most people looked around the outfield and automatically assumed that they would build on last year’s fairly impressive offensive output and light up the scoreboard with regularity.
Slow starts by Andrew McCutchen (.194), Starling Marte (.234), Josh Harrison (.202), Pedro Alvarez (.214), and Jordy Mercer (.200) has grinded the scoring to a complete halt at times. McCutchen doesn’t look to be in the prime physical shape that we’re accustomed to and to this point in the season seems to be a step slower in the field and a few feet weaker with the bat. He will regain All-Star form but one would have to question whether or not a stint on the DL might be inevitable.
Huntington has done a masterful job of piecing together veteran starting pitchers around a young core of talent and he continues to hit on nearly every acquisition.
Marte has provided a surprising amount of power belting six home runs in April alone, but lacks the consistency that is necessary to reach that next level. He leads the team with 28 strikeouts. Jordy Mercer has a slugging percentage of .215 and only one extra base hit in 65 at bats. That statistic is stifling when you think about it. Josh Harrison has assumed the ever important lead-off role within the lineup but so far has grossly disappointed with a .239 OBP. That’s easily the lowest on the team next to the pitchers and Andrew Lambo.
To the contrary, there has been some very welcomed surprises in the lineup. First and foremost has been Francisco Cervelli. While Russell Martin has floundered in Toronto, Cervelli has stepped in and provided a nice boost to the offense, hitting .271 with 4 doubles in 59 at-bats thus far. The much criticized Jung Ho Kang has proven that he’s ready for the bigs and after a difficult start has raised his average to .269 with 6 RBIs in only 13 ABs. Not only that, but he’s proven to be a tough out at the plate and has given the Pirates quality at-bats every time he steps into the batter’s box.
If you take away Kang’s first major league start where he went 0-3 with two strikeouts, he has only 4 strikeouts in 23 AB’s (17% strikeout ratio). That’s better than almost every regular starter including Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen. For someone who was supposed to struggle mightily with major league pitching, he doesn’t seemed fooled very often at the plate. He has two more RBI’s then Jordy Mercer in roughly 40 less at-bats and unless Mercer gets hot real quick, I fully expect Jung Ho Kang to assume the starting shortstop role by the all-star break.
Overall, Pittsburgh Pirates fans should be quite pleased with the results of a tough April. It hasn’t been perfect, but they are way ahead of where they were last year and their offensive output can only increase which will translate into more wins. Once this team starts clicking, the sky is the limit.
Let’s go Bucs.