The Pirates suffered a huge loss yesterday when Jung Ho Kang was injured in the series finale against the Cubs. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning, Anthony Rizzo grounded into a double play. Kang, who was covering second on the play, was slid into by Cubs’ right fielder Chris Coghlan. Kang immediately went down and was taken out of the game. The outcome of the game was secondary yesterday, as it was later discovered that Kang had torn his MCL on the play, and will miss the rest of the season and the postseason, as the expected recovery period is six to eight months. The reaction across twitter was noticeable to say the least.
On the opposite side of that was Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon’s reaction.
It makes sense that he’d come to the defense of his player, but the play, though considered legal by many, was considered dirty by many as well.
This is the biggest loss for the Pirates this season, as Kang has developed into an above average major league starter at worse, and his presence in the lineup has been key to the offense and has, in turn, helped improve the bench as well. This loss can’t be underplayed, but the Pirates over the years have shown the ability to battle through injuries. What does the loss of Kang mean for this team moving forward?
For one, the Pirates lose a player that’s been worth 4.1 wins above replacement this season (according to ESPN). Thus, if it weren’t for Kang this season, the Pirates may be sitting in the second Wild Card spot and would probably not have a realistic shot at the NL Central title. On the surface, the Pirates have no way to replace the run production Kang brings to the lineup, nor can they replace his spot in the lineup. Kang’s 58 RBIs can’t be matched by any combination of players on the bench, nor can his power and cleanup role in the lineup be found elsewhere. This puts additional pressure on guys like Aramis Ramirez and Pedro Alvarez to deliver additional runs to the lineup.
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Losing Kang as a run producer has ripple effects. Maybe guys like Ramirez and Alvarez try to reach more for pitches they shouldn’t, or try to swing for the fences more than they have previously. The added pressure on them, and Andrew McCutchen, and Neil Walker, could lead to these players to overextend themselves at the plate. Yes, everyone will need to step up in Kang’s absence. But they shouldn’t change their approach at the plate too much.
Kang’s loss also has an immediate effect on the Pirates’ depth. Jordy Mercer will now be thrust into the permanent role as the starting shortstop. Kang occasionally played there, and although Mercer was looking like he would start at short in the playoffs, that role is now solidified. Aramis Ramirez will likely return to third base and get less time at first, or Josh Harrison could be thrust back into his starting role at third that he had occupied before his injury. Pedro Florimon and Harrison are now the only other players that could play shortstop, and short isn’t Harrison’s strongest defensive position.
With the starting pitching looking shaky in the second half of the season, the Pirates have needed all the offense they could get. Thus, without Kang, there will also be added pressure on the entire pitching staff. ESPN had this stat on twitter that speaks to what Kang brings to the lineup:
Yeah, he’s that important.
The Pirates don’t have a choice now but to move on without Kang. Everyone will need to step up. But this team is capable of doing that. They still have the offensive talent and the pitching depth to do some damage in the playoffs and get to the World Series. Let’s see how this team responds.