Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 mid-season review


With half of the baseball season in the books, this is a fitting time to do a review of the Pittsburgh Pirates so far in 2015. While the Pirates may not be leading the division, they are still securely in the playoff hunt and taking over the St. Louis Cardinals is certainly within reach for this team.

At 47-34, the Pirates are 6 games behind the Cardinals for the division lead. This does not accurately show how good of a ball club Pittsburgh is, because their winning percentage of .580 ranks them second in the entire National League. And third overall in Major League Baseball. So if the Pirates did not have the unfortunate duty of sharing a division with a powerhouse like St. Louis, they would be leading a division and probably by a few games.

One reason the Pirates have been able to stay fairly close to the Cardinals is that they have had a seven and eight game winning streak in the first half. The most games they have lost in a row have been four and five, each only on one occasion. So the Pirates have been able to win that ballgame they needed before a losing streak started to get really out of control. They also have the 3rd best run differential with a +57 which is a good indicator of a team’s success.

More from Rum Bunter

Considering all of the above, there are a lot of players that have led the team to be in the position they are in. After a slow start, Andrew McCutchen has been playing like the player we have gotten used to seeing over the last few years and will be starting for the NL All-Stars this year. He may go through games when he strikes out four times, but Starling Marte has begun to put together the best season of his young career. Marte has already matched his career high in home runs and is putting himself in great position to have a 30/30 season. He is starting to show what a lethal combination of power and speed he has, but he also does so through spells where he may not get a hit for a few games.

Francisco Cervelli deserves to be mentioned as well. He was tasked with replacing Russell Martin and he has done a good job. Both Cervelli (and Chris Stewart) deserve some of the credit for the pitching staff’s low ERA. But Cervelli has been especially good, showing a sharp eye at the plate and some pop with the bat. At this point the New York Yankees should be cautious when the Pirates start asking about their catchers.

On the mound, the first three pitchers in the rotation have been exceptional this season. Gerrit Cole is turning in a season where he is showing why he was a number on draft pick and is an All Star for the first time in his career .Another pitcher making his first appearance at an All Star Game is A.J. Burnett, who at the age of 38 is putting together one of his best seasons in what he says will be his last year. Francisco Liriano, who like Cole is striking out more hitters than innings pitched, has given the Pirates a solid left handed option at the top of the rotation. If everything holds and the Pirates do make a playoff run, their top three starting pitchers can match up with any team in the NL. Rounding out the four Pittsburgh representatives at the All Star Game is Mark Melancon who leads the NL in saves.

One reason the Pirates have been able to stay fairly close to the Cardinals is that they have had a seven and eight game winning streak in the first half. The most games they have lost in a row have been four and five, each only on one occasion.

While overall the Pirates have played very well this year, there are a few members of the squad who are not giving the team what was expected of them. It will be interesting to see if the team makes any moves to upgrade any of the areas that it’s clear need to be fixed.

At this point, Gregory Polanco has accumulated enough at bats between last year and this year to be judged on a full season of work. The numbers are not that good. His line of .233/.308/.338 leaves much to be desired considering how highly touted he was coming out of the system. Unless the team changes its mind or they make a move and trade for someone, Polanco will most likely spend the rest of the season with the big club. When the Pirates traded Travis Snider to Baltimore, they clearly believed that Polanco was the answer in right field. Hopefully he will right the ship and start contributing at a higher level.

Another lefty needs to get it going is Pedro Alvarez. While he does showcase his power occasionally, even sending a ball into a parked boat on the Allegheny, his home run total is well below the pace it should be for him. As a corner infielder, he is expected to add more power to the lineup. Like right field with Polanco, first base is a position that the Pirates may try to upgrade before the July 31st deadline. He did produce the hit that drove in the winning run yesterday, so perhaps he is starting to heat up.

Jeff Locke turned in a fantastic start on July 4th, when he went eight innings and did not allowed Cleveland to score. This is the type of outing the team needs to see from the back end of the rotation. While Locke sports a 5-4 record, his ERA is north of four and he struggles to make it to the sixth inning in most starts due to throwing too many pitches early in the game. The team will no doubt continue to pitch him in the foreseeable future, especially after his last start, but he’ll need to keep going deep into ballgames to show that he deserves the spot in the rotation.

So at the half way point of the season, the Pirates are in great shape and are definitely one of the top teams in the NL, they just unfortunately live in the same division as the Cardinals. The upcoming four game series against the St. Louis right before the All-Star break will be pivotal, as the Pirates can start to close the gap and gain some ground in the standings. We’ll check in again around the 120th game of the season to see where the Pirates stand and discuss those who stand out for both good and bad reasons.

Next: Pittsburgh Pirates' International Signing Day Analysis