For a variety of reasons, I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates are primed for a second half run that will catapult them into the postseason for a fourth consecutive season.
In the long, prestigious history of the Pittsburgh Pirates the franchise has accomplished many things. The Pittsburgh Pirates have won five World Series championships, competed for seven, they competed in the first ever World Series, they have produced league MVPs, and 37 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame have some sort of tie to the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, one thing the Pirates have never done is compete in the postseason in four consecutive seasons.
In my opinion, that will change this fall. The Pittsburgh Pirates currently sit one and a half games behind the Miami Marlins and New York Mets for the second National League Wild Card spot. However, I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to make a second half run that results in a fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
As recently as three weeks ago it appeared the odds of the Pittsburgh Pirates making a fourth consecutive postseason appearance were about shot. The team found itself five games under .500, six games out of a Wild Card spot, and 15 games behind the division leading Chicago Cubs. However, a 12-4 run in their last 16 games leading up to the All-Star Break have the Pittsburgh Pirates in position to make another postseason push.
As I said above, there are multiple reasons why I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates will earn a fourth consecutive postseason berth come October. The team is getting healthy, the bullpen has improved, there is reason for optimism with the starting rotation, and their remaining schedule is the easiest in all of Major League Baseball. All of these factors should add up to the Pittsburgh Pirates playing in October yet again.
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First and foremost, the team’s health. Starting catcher Francisco Cervelli has been on the disabled list since June 11th. However, Cervelli started a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis last night, going 2-for-4 with a RBI, and he should be back behind the plate for the Pittsburgh Pirates at some point in the next seven to ten days.
Also on the injury front, ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was injured in the same game on June 10th as Cervelli was, will return from the disabled list tomorrow. Prior to going on the disabled list Cole was having another excellent season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 68 1/3 innings pitched Cole was averaging 7.24 K/9, 2.63 BB/9, 0.40 HR/9, and he had a 2.77 ERA and a 3.10 FIP. Also, Jameson Taillon should rejoin the starting rotation from the disabled list during the Pirates’ upcoming homestand.
When you combine Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon rejoining the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation with Tyler Glasnow having become an option to pitch in Pittsburgh, a rotation that has struggled most of the season should begin to improve. Odds are, at the maximum, only two of the three between Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, and Jeff Locke will have to make starts for the Pirates down the stretch. Considering the Pirates are 26-27 when these three pitcher start and 20-16 when anyone else starts, this bodes well for the Bucs.
Plus, it is possible, that only one of those three are making starts down the stretch. This is because I expect Neal Huntington to make a big push to try and add a starting pitcher between now and the August 1st trade deadline. It has also been widely reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates are attempting to trade Jon Niese and/or Jeff Locke. So I expect at least one of those two to get moved.
One other reason for optimism with the starting rotation is the improvement Francisco Liriano has shown in his last four starts. In those four starts Liriano has not allowed a home run and has a 3.90 FIP. Major improvements over the 5.68 FIP and 1.76 HR/9 he was allowing through his first 13 starts of the season.
A big reason for the Pittsburgh Pirates improved play of late has been an improved bullpen. While Mark Melancon, Neftali Feliz, and A.J. Schugel have pitched well all season, the rest of the bullpen is finally starting to help them out. A middle relief corp that was once the Pirates’ biggest weakness, has become a strength.
Since returning from the disabled list on June 11th Arquimedes Caminero has pitched like the pitcher fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates saw during his rookie campaign in 2015. In 17 2/3 innings pitched he has allowed just one home run, he has a 1.53 ERA, 3.23 FIP, he has walked just six batters, and he has struck out 15. Caminero has also returned to regularly hitting 100+ miles per hour on the gun.
Assisting Caminero in improving the middle relief has been Juan Nicasio. Since being moved to the bullpen in late June Juan Nicasio has pitched 10 1/3 innings, and has allowed just two runs while striking out ten batters. Nicasio has also brought value to the bullpen by being able to pitch effectively in both one inning and multiple inning outings.
But arguably the biggest reason the bullpen has returned to a strength has been the reemergence of Tony Watson. During the first two months of the season the former All-Star closer could not have been further from the dominant pitcher he had been for the Pittsburgh Pirates the past three seasons. However, Watson has turned his season around as well.
Since June 7th, Watson has allowed just one run in 15 innings pitched. In those 15 innings he has walked three batters, struck out 12, has not allowed a home run, and has a 2.18 FIP. This turnaround by Watson has given the Pittsburgh Pirates arguably the best 7-8-9 trio in the National League. Also, it has allowed A.J. Schugel to be used primarily in middle relief strengthen that portion of the Pirate bullpen.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have had one of the National League’s best lineups all season long, they also have a strong bullpen, and a starting rotation that should improve. However, the main reason I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates will make the postseason is their remaining schedule. Because the Pittsburgh Pirates remaining schedule is arguably the easiest in all of Major League Baseball.
After the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Washington Nationals this weekend they will have 70 games remaining this season. 37 of these 70 games will be played at PNC Park. Furthermore, 42 of these 70 games come against teams that are right at .500 or below. There is no reason the Pittsburgh Pirates can not win at least 42 of these games, which would get them to 88 wins on the season and all but assure them a postseason spot.
Despite going just 9-19 in the month of June, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves just one and a half games out of the National League’s second Wild Card spot as Major League Baseball’s post All-Star Break schedule begins. When you combine the Pittsburgh Pirates getting healthy, an improved bullpen, and how easy their remaining schedule is, I fully expect them to earn their fourth consecutive postseason berth.