Pittsburgh Pirates Week in Review: 4/27 – 5/3

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

A busy week is over for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the roller-coaster season continued. The team’s record is 17-15, putting them behind three other teams in the NL Central.

Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. The good, the bad, and the ugly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s the theme of this series – shout out to the Italian man himself,  Francisco Cervelli, for the inspiration. Let’s jump into the week that was!

The good and the bad sections will be self-explanatory, looking at both the good and the bad of the week. The ugly will simply be a section that covers all of the other random notes of importance from the week.

The Bad

I’m going to switch things up this week and start with the bad because, honestly, I’m rather salty.

I feel led on. I feel confused. And I feel just generally distraught. As a current resident of the D.C. area, I was extremely excited to attend the four-game series the Pirates had scheduled in D.C. against the Nationals.

With the Pirates coming off a sweep of the Cardinals and the Nationals missing three key players to injuries, I justifiably anticipated an exciting series. I arrived early to the games with my black and gold proudly showing and what was my reward?

One of the most uncompetitive series that I have ever witnessed in the game of baseball.

The Nationals outscored the Pirates 27 to 10 over those four games, and only one of the four games felt even remotely competitive. Once again, the bats completely disappeared, and the only semi-important hit over the four games was made by Jameson Taillon, a pitcher.

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Am I over-reacting to a week where the Pirates ultimately went 3-4? Probably. But, Clint Hurdle needs to find a way to get his team to hit and to compete daily. Not every other series. Getting swept in two four-game series as the first month of baseball ends is really, really bad. After sweeping the Cardinals, even a split with the Nationals would most likely put this team on top of the NL Central. Instead, the Pirates are sitting in fourth place.

Let’s stay on the topic of the bats and try to figure out where some of the problems are coming from. I think everyone would agree that the Pirates should be above average offensively this season. Between the upgraded offense coming from third base and left field, the surprise offense coming from the catchers, and the offensive talent that is supposedly sitting in center field, right field, and first base, this team should have no problem scoring runs.

The biggest problem for the Pirates offense at the moment is lineup construction. The one through three spots in the lineup are an issue right now. Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte, who hit second and third in the order, are hitting .214 and .217 with runners in scoring position.

I agree with fellow writer Marty Leap that Polanco is getting unlucky so far this season, but Hurdle cannot expect his club to string together runs and hits if he has two very important spots in the line-up being occupied by players that are hitting well under .300 and horrendously with runners in scoring position.

In addition, the lead-off spot continues to be a disaster. Over the past seven games since the last edition of this article, the Pirates lead-off hitters have collected only FIVE hits. You are not going to score runs if the position that gets the most at-bats is not getting on base. Just like Dave Martinez of the Nationals improvised by unconventionally moving Bryce Harper up to the lead-off spot against the Pirates to jump-start the Nationals offense, Hurdle needs to consider similar measures to jump-start his club.

Here is my solution:

1. Marte  2. Dickerson  3. Bell  4. Cervelli  5. Moran  6. Polanco  7. Frazier  8. Mercer  9. Pitcher

Marte is getting on base well and has the speed to steal bases, but is not hitting for much power – so lead-off is the logical conclusion. Dickerson, Bell, Cervelli, and Moran are all hitting fantastic with runners in scoring position – and Cervelli’s extremely hot bat needs to be higher up in the order. Polanco and whoever is playing second base for the day needs to be hidden in the six and seven spots unless someone starts to heat up. I honestly think adjusting the line-up to reflect something closer to my suggestion would go a long way for the Pirates.

The last topic for the bad this week is Chad Kuhl. As much as I love Kuhl’s competitive spirit, he is struggling to pitch competitive games this season, especially against good teams. Kuhl’s only two good starts this season have been against the 7-24 Cincinnati Reds, and a Rockies club that didn’t have its best hitter Nolan Arenado in the line-up. Outside of those two games, Kuhl has an ERA around 6.40. The Pirates have some better options available that I will discuss in the good section.

The Good

Leading off the good for the Pirates are Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz, the unstoppable catching duo. Cervelli and Diaz are hitting .310/.388/.595/.983 and .405/.450/.568/1.018 on the season. In addition, the two have combined to hit 7 home runs and drive in 27 runs from a position that traditionally is not expected to put up big numbers in either of those categories.

This is without a doubt the best catching tandem in the league so far this season, and if the all-star break started today, Cervelli would be your starting catcher.  Many people predicted that if Cervelli was healthy he would have a great season, however, I don’t think anyone expected him to be doing this well. Keep up the good work behind the plate boys.

I hope that everyone took my suggestion from last week’s article and watched Nick Kingham’s debut as a Pittsburgh Pirate. If you missed it, wow you missed a heck of a debut.

Kingham went seven innings and struck out nine Cardinals. The first six and two-thirds of the seven inning were perfect, literally, no walks or hits. Unsurprisingly, this set or tied many debut-related records. Hurdle is rewarding Kingham’s incredible spot-start with another start against the Brewers on Friday the 4th. If Kingham pitches well again, the Pirates should move him into the rotation permanently and replace Chad Kuhl.

I don’t want to ignore the three-game sweep of the Cardinals. The Pirates have done really well this season against division opponents going 8-2 over the course of three separate series. The NL Central is going to be tight this year, and if the Pirates can establish dominance and confidence in inter-division play, the team is going to have a huge leg up over the Cubs, the Cardinals, and the Brewers. If the Pirates win this week’s series against the Brewers, the team will have already beat every divisional opponent in a series of three or more games this season.

The Ugly

A big story for the Pirates in May might be how they handle roster decisions as key players return for the team.

A.J. Schugel owns a 3.19 ERA out of the bullpen for the Pirates the last two seasons and has quietly been one of their more consistent bullpen pitchers. Schugel has now made multiple Triple-A Indy appearances and is expected to be called up to the Pirates sooner rather than later.

Joe Musgrove, when healthy, will make his Pirate debut and provide immediate help as either a starter or a bullpen arm (looks like initially he will get an opportunity as a starter). Musgrove made his first start with High-A Bradenton on Tuesday and pitched well. If all goes according to schedule, the Pirates could see Musgrove by the end of the month.

Josh Harrison is working his way back to the Pirates everyday leadoff spot and is about ready to start his rehab assignment. It goes without saying that he is sorely missed. Hopefully, we will see him as well before the end of the month.

As I was watching the Pirates-Nationals series, I was treated to multiple occurrences of the on-field president’s mascot race. For anyone who has attended a game at PNC Park, this is very similar to the pierogi race. I was not entertained. Maybe I was just upset at how poorly the Pirates were racing, but for some reason, this race did not feel as special as the pierogi race at PNC. However, this experience did spark a rabbit-hole-like Google search for all of the teams that have mascot races.

Without spending a terrible amount of time, I was surprised to find 14 different teams with some sort of mascot race. Some of the races and mascots are embarrassingly bad like the Marlins’ sea creature race, the Astros’ hot-sauce pack race, and the Rangers’ dot race (literally they are just circles racing). The Pirates happen to have the second-oldest mascot race, beat out only by the Brewers, who race sausages every game. Interestingly, it seems like the pierogies and the National’s presidents race quite often, though I personally have not witnessed the event.

Please watch this, it is hysterical.

Next: Examining Hot Starts at AAA

That’s all for this week! Feel free to comment below if you have any suggestions or thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly – I am always looking for feedback!

The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:

May 4th – Pirates @ the Brewers 8:10

May 5th – Pirates @ the Brewers 7:10

May 6th – Pirates @ the Brewers 2:10

May 8th – Pirates @ the White Sox 8:10

May 9th – Pirates @ the White Sox 2:10