Pittsburgh Pirates Week in Review 7/6 – 7/12
The Pittsburgh Pirates went 4-3 this week. The Bucs had an embarrassing series against the Phillies, but did beat the Nationals at home. With a record of 44-49, the Pirates seem destined to be sellers at the trade deadline.
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.
After the Phillies scored 17 runs on Pirates’ pitching in a single game, the starting rotation has settled down. The next six games saw every starter go at least five innings while giving up no more than three earned runs. Over that stretch, Jameson Taillon pitched two games for 12 and 2/3 innings, giving up only four runs, and Trevor Williams bounced back from a rough start with a five inning shutout.
The bullpen has also been pitching well since the blowout against the Phillies. Over a six game stretch the bullpen has pitched 19 2/3 innings and has only given up five runs. All five of those runs were given up by Steven Brault and Neftali Feliz – so outside of Brault Feliz, the bullpen has been literally perfect. Felipe Vasquez has had a few tremendous outings and looks to be back on track, and Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick have been equally strong in the 7th and 8th innings respectfully.
For the rest of the season, the pitching at both the starting and relief levels will be the most important area for Neal Huntington to assess. The Pirates have a plethora of young arms and Huntington will need to decide which arms he will keep, trade, or release.
By the end of the season (and honestly even by the trade deadline), this round of prospects and players will have had enough time to show their true colors. This team will need at least a few aces in the near future, not a bevy of mediocre pitchers. It’s going to be up to the players and Neal to decide which pitchers should stay and fulfill that title, and which pitchers should go.
Keeping with the deadline talk, there is one expiring contract I would love to see re-sign with the Pirates – Corey Dickerson.
I know that I have stated in previous articles that it is likely that Dickerson will be traded, but I would like to see him stay. If the Pirates could lock Dickerson into a contract similar to Josh Harrison’s, the Pirates would truly be helping future teams get closer to a World Series title.
The Pirates have a backlog outfielders and outfield prospects, but how many of them are going to outperform Dickerson? Dickerson has been hitting over .300 for almost the entire season, has an .800+ OPS, and has turned into an average to a plus fielder. Day in and day out I see Dickerson have a consistent approach at the plate, continually producing no matter where Clint Hurdle throws him into the lineup. Again, I understand there could be slightly worse options at a considerably lower price (prospects included) – but if the Pirates truly want to win, they need stars, not mediocre players. Dickerson can be a star.
Interestingly, Dickerson was not the only Pirates’ outfielder with a stellar week, Starling Marte is heating up. Marte went 12 for 27 over this past week and is showing both power and speed. Marte is tied for the League lead with 23 stolen bases and now has 41 RBIs and 11 home runs.
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Minus one bad game against the Phillies, the Pirates showed once again that they have the tools to win this season. However, a bad stretch of games throughout May and June really hurt this club. Even Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington has come to realize that stark truth.
On Sunday Neal Huntington had his weekly interview and discussed the Pirates’ poor performance up to that point in the season. He also discussed the consequences that may result from that poor performance.
"“This is a really big week for us. And I don’t want to ever over-emphasize how important a single stretch of games is, but this is as far out of a playoff spot we’ve been in July out of 8 years. We are in a situation where we need to take a more realistic club this year…I really want to emphasize that it’s not all on the next week of games, but this is not a stretch where 4-4 would make us feel good. We have fallen behind some teams that are not only ahead of us, but that are beating us. We talked last week how we are not putting a for sale sign, not selling everybody, and we still are not. But we are putting ourselves in a position where we are well on the outside looking in, so we need to take a more realistic look. part of that might be, depending on how this week goes….we do need to take a look at the young players, at the guys who have a chance to be her for a long time.”"
It’s a long quote, but it’s an important quote that describes where the main decision-maker’s mind is for the Pirates. The Pirates are five games into the stretch that Neil Huntington is referring to and the Pirates are 4-1. That’s a good start, but the Pirates still have three more games to play before Sunday and four more before the All-Star break. Even if the Pirates do sweep the Brewers, the Bucs will be below .500 and Huntington may decide to sell anyway.
In fact, that is almost exactly what happened last season. The Pirates were below .500 before the All-Star Break, swept the Brewers in a series right after the All-Star Break and got to .500, but the Pirates (correctly) decided to sell. Once again, I think the main discussion here is not if the Pirates will sell, but how they will go about selling.
One has to continue to question Clint Hurdle’s lineup card. Austin Meadows continues to sit on the bench, getting only one start across the past seven games. This truly makes no sense to me. Meadows is the Pirates’ top hitting prospect and is not getting a chance to hit the ball. Meadows went 2-2 off of the bench on Tuesday and Hurdle rewarded him with another seat on the bench Wednesday. What else does Hurdle want to see from Meadows before he starts playing him every day? Does he want Meadows to hit .400 instead of .300? I don’t have a Twitter, but if I did I would be all over the #PlayMeadows #It’sNotHard.
On top of that, the Pirates called up Jordan Luplow on July 6th because he had a hot bat at Triple-A Indy…but then didn’t give him a start until July 11th when he went 0-3. Luplow added to his 0-3 start by going 0-4 on Thursday with his second start. I am not sure what the Pirates are relying on to set their lineup, but there needs to be more common sense introduced into the process.
I don’t want to go into a ton of depth about Friday’s game against the Phillies, but it was almost certainly the low point of the Pirates’ season. The following is from Trevor Williams who started the game:
"“We’re tired of losing, I’m tired of getting my (butt) kicked every five days. I’m searching. It’s peaks and valleys, and right now, collectively, we’re in a valley. It’s going to turn around. We’re going to come to the field tomorrow expecting to win and looking to put up some runs.”"
Yeah getting scored on 17 times in a single game twice is definitely a valley. But hey, let’s try to move on together.
Felipe Vazquez was named the All-Star representative for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I am not sure if Vazquez deserves the All-Star nod for this season, but he certainly did deserve an invite last season.
At the All-Star Break last year, Vazquez had a 0.76 ERA, 14 holds, and was six for six in save opportunities. Since Vazquez was passed over in 2017, I am glad to see Vazzquez will get to make an appearance this season. I am especially glad that he will make that appearance in Washington D.C. where the Nationals will get another reminder that they should not have traded the talented Rivero-of-old away.
The Pirates need to make the most of their trades because they certainly are not doing a good job at developing their prospects. Watching one of the Nationals’ top prospects, Juan Soto, reminded me of this unfortunate truth. On a positive note, Soto was an extremely entertaining player to watch and I am glad that, at the young age of 19, Soto will be around for a long time. The MLB needs more Juan Soto’s and Shohei Ohtani’s.
If you are into the analytics of baseball, I suggest reading this recent Bucs Dugout article. Jameson Taillon was pulled too early by Hurdle on Saturday’s game against the Phillies, but Hurdle had the analytics on his side. Taillon has incredible statistics against batters the first time around in the order, but struggles mightily against batters the third time around in the order.
Next: Swaggerty Off To A Hot Start
That’s all for this week. As a heads up, I may take next week off since it is the All-Star break. Let’s go Bucs!
The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:
July 13th – Brewers @ the Pirates 7:05
July 14th – Brewers @ the Pirates 12:35
Brewers @ the Pirates TBD (Game two of a double-header)
July 15th – Brewers @ the Pirates 1:35
July 16th –19th is the All-Star Break