Pittsburgh Pirates Week in Review: 5/11 – 5/17

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 30: Josh Bell
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 30: Josh Bell /

The Pittsburgh Pirates had an outstanding week and currently sit at 26-17 on the season, 9 games above .500. What is going well for the Pirates and what does the team need to do to stay on top of 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 Good

Like I mentioned last week, great teams win the games that they are supposed to win. It sounds like a task that should be easy, but it isn’t. However, the Pirates are making it look easy. The Bucs went 5-1 against teams with losing records since the last edition of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because of this, the Pirates are sitting on top of the NL Central and are having a historically good start for the franchise. To quote a really cool statistic from MLB.com:

"“Including off-days, the Pirates have now spent 25 days in first place [of the NL Central] this season. This matches the total number of days they spent in first place from 2014-17, per Baseball-Reference.com.”"

After a very shaky start, the Pirates’ Bullpen has played a major role in the team’s success. This past week saw the pen go 21 innings while only giving up 5 runs. The stretch included a clutch six inning – one run performance against the Giants after Jameson Tallion left the game with an injury, three innings of shutout ball in a one run game against the White Sox, and four innings of one run – shutout ball against the Padres.  Overall, the relief corps has a season ERA of 3.84, which is good for 12th best in the MLB. This is pretty great considering the bullpen started the first few weeks of the season with an ERA in the 7’s.

Clint Hurdle is quietly having one of his best years as the Pirates’ skipper. So far Hurdle has taken what most people considered to be a mediocre to below average club, and has coaxed out an NL Central contender. I know that a lot of this has to do with the players, but Hurdle has been stepping up his game in other areas as well. One area that I have always thought Hurdle struggled with is in-game decision making. Whether this was pulling the starting pitcher at the wrong time, setting the line-up card in a funky manner, or missing key challenges, the Pirates seemed to always be outsmarted by other teams.

However, this year has proven me dead wrong.

Hurdle has won numerous challenges at second base surrounding the old “neighborhood rule” that has led to the Pirates scoring many additional runs. No other team has been on top of the replay system like the Pirates this year. In addition, the Pirates are playing clean baseball while on the bases and in the field. Even though the team is still making errors, the Bucs have stayed away from large mental lapses, have executed slides, double-plays, and pitching switches well, and have set a line-up that can consistently produce runs. I believe that all of these things can be contributed, at least partially, to Hurdle’s management.

On top of all this, the clubhouse atmosphere seems to be right where it should be for a team that is winning games on a daily basis. Check out this video after Nick Kingham’s first win, courtesy of Sean Rodriguez:

Kingham isn’t the first pitcher to receive this treatment. Apparently Edgar Santana, Richard Rodriguez, and many others have also succumbed to the post-game shower activities after collecting their first big league win.

The young starting pitchers are clearly getting along, despite the fact that many of them are competing for similar roles on the team. The dancing can use some work, but I love the chemistry.

To finish up the good for the week, Josh Bell is starting to heat up. It’s incredible to think that the team, and even Bell, have produced so well while Bell struggled through April and part of May. Bell went 8-20 this past week with eight RBIs – including a game winning pinch-hit RBI on Wednesday. Bell has moved his average up to .269, but I fully expect him to be flirting closer to the .300 mark within a few weeks if he stays this hot.

The Bad

Thankfully, there is not much to talk about in the bad this week. That’s what happens when the Bucs go 5-1 and are leading the division. Let’s just cover a few quick points to make sure we cover all of the bases…(it’s a baseball pun).

Despite the bullpen’s strong week, struggling relief pitcher George Kontos was officially removed from the set-up man role (traditionally the pitcher in the 8th inning) by Clint Hurdle. Kontos has a 4.58 ERA this season and a below average walk to strikeout ratio (5 walks, 7 strikeouts). Hitters are making contact often and hard when Kontos is pitching.

By the eye test alone, Kontos doesn’t actually seem to be pitching bad, but he is being out-shined by many of the young and hard throwing relievers that the Pirates have on their roster. Through 8 seasons of big league ball, Kontos owns a 3.08 ERA – so I do hope that he returns to his best form as the season continues to develop.

The Pirates racked up a few more injuries this week. Francisco Cervelli took a pitch to the arm and was sidelined for a few days. Thankfully, the injury was not serious and Cervelli was able to return to the lineup on Thursday. Also, Elias Diaz is a boss, so the Pirates were able to easily cover for Cervelli while he was gone. Starling Marte injured his oblique in the first game against the White Sox. As of right now, there is no timetable for his return, but the worst case scenario seems like a two week DL stint.

I do think it is important to touch on the starting pitching for the second week in a row. Even though the Pirates went 5-1 this week, they only had one quality start from their starting rotation. Only one pitcher made it to the 7th inning and most of the starters left earlier than the 6th. At the moment, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl are still struggling with consistency. This is a problem that can be rectified for the Pirates if one or two guys get hot, or if Joe Musgrove and Nick Kingham get plugged into the rotation – but this is still a situation that warrants some attention.

The Ugly

Welcome home Cutch.

What an awesome moment for the Pirates’ fans and for Andrew McCutchen. I love that the fans showed up for this game. I loved the video tributes. And I even loved that the fans cheered McCutchen when he ripped a double to left field. The series against the Giants was by far my favorite of the short season – long live the king of this generation of Buccos, Andrew McCutchen.

In the same game that McCutchen returned to PNC park, Jameson Taillon left the game with a finger laceration (this is a fancy way of saying he had a cut on his finger). Taillon desperately did not want to miss his next start and was willing to try anything to make sure that he was healed in time to pitch.

Will we ever know if he tried peeing on his finger? Probably not. But I love that he was willing to bring the debate to twitter.

Just to end this week on an even crazier note, I would like to dig up another interesting piece of MLB history. I’m not sure if it beats out last week’s story about Cleveland rioting on a 10 cent beer night, but it is certainly a very unique baseball moment.

So that is Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson and yes, that poof of feathers was a bird. Somehow the pitch and bird collided. I honestly don’t think this would happen again if baseball was played for another thousand years.

Next: Big Night for Pirate MiLB SPs

That’s all for this week! Hope you enjoyed and feel free to comment below. Let’s go Bucs!

The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:

May 18th – Padres @ the Pirates 7:05

May 19th – Padres @ the Pirates 7:05

May 20th – Padres @ the Pirates 1:35

May 22nd – Pirates @ the Reds 7:10

May 23rd – Pirates @ the Reds 7:10

May 24th – Pirates @ the Reds 12:35