The Most Important Pittsburgh Pirates in the Season’s Second Half

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 29: John Jaso /
5 of 6
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 13: Felipe Rivero
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 13: Felipe Rivero /

The bullpen

Anyone who has watched the Pittsburgh Pirates this season will tell you the biggest problem has been the team’s bullpen. Felipe Rivero might be the best relief pitcher in the National League and Juan Nicasio has had a dominant season. Otherwise, the bullpen has been, at best, inconsistent.

Tony Watson is having the worst season of his career and can no longer be trusted in high leverage situations. Daniel Hudson has been a colossal disappointment. Antonio Bastardo and Johnny Barbato were both flat out horrible. Wade LeBlanc has pitched well, but he’s the long man, and Jhan Marinez has yet to earn Clint Hurdle’s trust.

The Pittsburgh Pirates desperately need someone to step up in the bullpen. This could be Marinez who has pitched well since coming to Pittsburgh. Another option is A.J. Schugel who rejoined the team this past Saturday after a strong 2016 out of the Pirate bullpen.

If the Pirates can get a lead to Juan Nicasio and Felipe Rivero, the game is essentially over. With how a good a duo those two have become at the back of the Pirate bullpen handing them a lead is about as safe as it gets. However, often times, getting the lead to them from the starting pitchers is easier said than done.

It is in the bridge innings where the Pirate bullpen must be better. Getting Tony Watson back to his old self would help, but that seems extremely unlikely. Getting Daniel Hudson, who has allowed just 2 earned runs his past 13 1/3 innings pitched, back on track seems more likely but is still far from a given.

To be honest, for the Pirates to fix their middle relief they probably need to go a route they have not yet this season. That could be Clint Hurdle putting more trust in Jhan Marinez, that could be the return of A.J. Schugel to the bullpen, or that could be in the form of Neal Huntington swinging a trade for bullpen help.

However it happens, the bullpen must be better the rest of the season. If it is not, the Pittsburgh Pirates have absolutely zero chance of competing for a division championship after the All-Star Break.