Pittsburgh Pirates Week in Review: 5/4 – 5/10

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a bounce-back week and currently sit at 21-16 on the season. With an easy week ahead, will the Pirates be able to retake the NL Central division lead?

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 Good

This past week was the shortest week of the Pirates’ young season, but that certainly didn’t stop the team from putting together multiple quality wins. The Pirates went 4-1 over the stretch of five games – including a series win against the division rival Brewers, and a two-game series sweep over the White Sox.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, the Pirates have done extremely well against NL Central opponents. With the series win over the Brewers, the Bucs improved their inner-division record to a very impressive 10-3.

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The two wins against the 9-25 White Sox were equally important. Why? Because great teams win the games that they are supposed to win. Note that I said great teams, not good teams. Good teams win games but always fall short of success because they either fail to win key games or fail to win the games that they are supposed to win. You need to be able to do both, and that is what makes a team great. Right now the Pirates are doing both.

This upcoming stretch presents an exciting opportunity for the Pirates. The team has three games against a 19-19 San Francisco Giants team, two games against the 9-25 White Sox, and four games against the 14-24 Padres. These are teams that the Pirates should beat – and need to beat. Going 7-3 or even 8-2 over this stretch is extremely doable and would easily give the Pirates the NL Central lead.

One thing that really excites me about this team is their attitude. Teams that jive together, win together. And that is exactly what happened against the White Sox on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sub-par starts from Ivan Nova and Trevor Williams left the Pirates four runs down in both games. But, in both games, the Pirates’ bats responded in resounding fashion. The win on Wednesday included the Pirates scoring four runs in the 9th inning alone, enough to tie and win the game. What is really incredible is that the Bucs did this against the White Sox’s closer Nate Jones – who is a no joke pitcher. Jones hasn’t given up more than two runs in an outing since September 21st….2013.

One of the main reasons that the Pirates are having so much success is the length in their lineup. What I mean by this is that the Pirates can drive in runs from the top to the bottom of the order – there really is not a soft spot. Gregory Polanco has a lower batting average, but still has a .791 OPS with 7 home runs, he is then followed by five batters, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, Corey Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, and Colin Moran – who are all hitting the cover off of the ball. Their respective RBI totals are 20, 17, 18, 26, 22, and 19.

That is crazy.

The Pirates have six players with 17 plus RBIs. As of Thursday morning, that puts all six of those Pirates players in the top 87 players, in regards to RBIs, for the MLB. There are 30 MLB teams – do the math – the average team doesn’t even have three players that eclipse this mark. On top of this, the Pirates are hitting .279 with runners in scoring position, which is 4th best in the MLB. This is terrifying for opposing pitchers – six batters in a row that can, and most likely will, cash in anyone who is on base.

I have to give credit where credit is due. I bashed Chad Kuhl last week, and he responded with a 7 inning, no runs, one hit gem against the Brewers.

Here is the thing with Kuhl. We know he has the stuff. The velocity is there, the quality of pitches is there, and the winner’s attitude is there, but the control is day to day. And that can make or break a Major League pitcher. Let’s hope Ray Searage can cement whatever Kuhl did during his last start into more of a permanent fixture because it is a lot of fun to watch Kuhl when he is pitching well.

The Bad

Here we go again. I feel like a broken record. Why is Adam Frazier still leading off for this team? He went 4-17 over these past five games, which is better than he has been doing, but is still a .235 average. On top of that, he has yet to steal a single base and has a .616 OPS. Until he starts to heat up, Frazier needs to be hitting 7th in the Pirates order. Having a .242 hitter receiving the most at-bats every game on your team is a waste and it will come back to bite Hurdle in the butt sooner rather than later. Move Marte to the top of the order, please.

The starting pitching is beginning to concern me. Not a lot, but just enough. There are a few odd signs that should be mentioned. The first is the 4.21 ERA and the 1.25 WHIP.  Neither of these statistics look great on paper and both rank the Pirates lower than what their record reflects. With Jameson Taillon struggling, the Pirates are without a true ace and the starting rotation gives off a general aura of inconsistency. Here’s another odd statistic, the starters have 16 wild pitches on the young season, second most in the league. Throw in the relievers and this number jumps to 30, which leads the Majors. It’s not a huge problem, but it is a pattern that Searage and the pitchers need to address.

The Ugly

Andrew McCutchen is coming to town with the San Francisco Giants starting on Friday. Rob Biertempfel interviewed Cutch with this return in mind, and Cutch had a lot of interesting things to say. In response to the question, “Will you be able to keep your emotions in check?” – Cutch responded:

“That’s something you can’t predict. I’ve never been in that situation before, so I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what my emotions are going to be like. I’m sure I’ll have a bunch of emotions and I’ll try to keep them in check.”

A modest answer, but a telling one. Remember, McCutchen named his son Steel – this is not going to be a player who just moves on when being traded away from the Steel City. And I know the Pirates fan base hasn’t moved on yet either. With the Penguins out of the playoffs, beautiful weather on the radar, a winning Pirates team, and Cutch returning to Pittsburgh, I expect Friday night to be a special game. Make sure you tune in.

Next: Colin Moran has a Clutch Gene

I got some good feedback last week from discussing a semi-tangential topic, the mascot races. So I figured I would go ahead and end this slower week with another interesting baseball story.

On Tuesday, June 4th, 1974, the Cleveland Indians tried something that no other team had ever dared to try before. Something that only the city of Cleveland would even begin to dream of.

10 cent beer day.

This would be equivalent to a $1 beer day (12 oz beer) per inflation today. As you would imagine, this promotion filled up the Indians’ stadium with ease. I am sure that the owners were already patting themselves on the back for such an ingenious idea. But then all hell broke loose…

Let’s pause to discuss something that happened six days before this game. Six days before June 4th, the Rangers and Indians had a pretty rowdy game that included punches thrown by the players, and Rangers fans throwing hot dogs at Cleveland players. So there was already bad blood between the teams when they met a short while later on the 4th.

As the game progressed into the evening, the average fan in the stadium reached a level of moderate to high intoxication and the problem of half-naked individuals running onto the field became a re-occurring issue. Then, a Cleveland fan threw a lit firecracker into the Rangers’ dugout. And soon after that a group of fans in left field managed to tear a large chunk of padding off of the right field wall. Yet, none of these broke the camel’s back.

Then things got bad. They got bad real fast.

In the 9th inning, a fan ran onto the field and attempted to steal the hat of Rangers’ outfielder Jeff Burroughs. From the Rangers’ dugout, it appeared as if Burroughs was being attacked, and Rangers’ skipper Billy Martin is famously quoted for saying, “Let’s go get ’em, boys”, as he armed himself with a baseball bat and ran onto the field. As you can imagine, things went downhill rather quickly from here. The Rangers started to chase the half-naked cap thief in the outfield armed with baseball bats, while fans from the stand poured onto the field armed with chains, knives, and even stadium seats in response.

Seeing the Rangers under attack by their own fans, Indians players then armed themselves with bats and turned against their own fans in an attempt to help the Rangers escape the onslaught. The players eventually retreated to the tunnels below the stadium and over 200 fans preceded to steal everything that was not bolted down on the field. The game was officially recorded as a forfeit.

Yup. Only in Cleveland. Well, that does it for this week guys, let’s go Bucs!

The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:

May 11th – Giants @ the Pirates 7:05

May 12th – Giants @ the Pirates 7:05

May 13th – Giants @ the Pirates 1:35

May 15th – White Sox @ the Pirates 7:05

May 16th – White Sox @ the Pirates 12:35

May 17th – Padres @ the Pirates 7:05