Pittsburgh Pirates in Review 8/3 – 8/9
The Pittsburgh Pirates lost a competitive series against the Cardinals, but then responded by beating the Rockies in an exciting series in Colorado. With multiple important series coming up, will the Pirates be able to make a post-season push?
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 Pittsburgh Pirates have quickly become one of the more exciting teams to watch in MLB. New players and rejuvenated players are stepping up in a big way every game – making the majority of the games the Pirates are playing competitive. One of these players is the Pirates’ ace, Jameson Taillon.
Listen to this: Taillon has quietly not given up more than three earned runs in any start since May 22nd against the Reds.
Since that game, Taillon has picked up seven wins, including a complete game win against the Rockies on Tuesday. The below video highlights Taillon’s most recent complete game.
Taillon is actually tied for the most complete games across all MLB pitchers this year with two. Even though this may not seem like a huge feat, Taillon’s 2.8 WAR and 3.68 ERA is no joke. Let’s hope Taillon continues to stay hot throughout August.
Gregory Polanco has been playing at a stellar level for over two months. Polanco hit .306 in June and .301 in July. More impressively, his OPS flirted with, and crossed the 1.000 mark during this span. Not many players accomplish that feat. Polanco has had a slower start to August, but the month is young and even an average August from Polanco would be huge down the stretch for the Pirates. This is Polanco’s month to put his doubters to rest.
Adam Frazier was controversially called up to the Big Leagues after sporting an ugly .223 batting average in AAA Indianapolis. Since his call-up, Frazier has a .423/.447/.757/1.204 line. Yeah, that’s insane. Oh, he also single-handedly saved the game on Wednesday with a defensive gem.
Hopefully, Hurdle continues to start Frazier every single game until Frazier cools off. The Pirates need to capitalize on his hot bat and glove.
GM Neal Huntington is continuing to rack up the wins. Both Chris Archer and Keone Kela were key contributors in the series deciding game against the Rockies on Wednesday.
Even though Archer did not pitch a fantastic game (lots of 3-2 counts, only 5 innings), he kept the Pirates in the game and picked up his first win as a Bucco.
Kela pitches like a stud. Seriously though, his curve ball is so nasty that it actually left the Pirates’ broadcasters speechless. Kela needs to be used in high leverage situations whenever he is available. For me, he is a clear number two behind Felipe Vazquez. Kyle Crick is good, but not Keone level good.
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Like I said, Neal is racking up the wins. This past week, the active GM acquired shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from the Rays.
Hechavarria was acquired through the waiver process for prospect Matt Seelinger who is not ranked as a top 30 prospect for the Pirates and was drafted in the 13th round of the 2017 draft.
Hechavarria is a pure rental player that will become a free agent after this season. He brings to the table slightly below average offensive capabilities and gold-glove defense. My prediction is that Hechavarriais used as the primary back-up for Jordy Mercer moving forward and may even be used as a late game defensive substitution.
Reality tells a somber story – the Pirates really did not make up any ground this week in the playoff race. The series win against the Rockies was clutch and needed, but it was offset by the series loss against the Cardinals. As of Thursday morning, the Pirates are still sitting fourth in the NL Central, 7 games back of the Cubs for the division lead, and are behind four other teams for the second Wild Card spot. The Bucs will need to go on another large winning streak that includes some series sweeps if they truly want a chance at making the playoffs.
The reality of the Wild Card race in the National League highlights how costly it is for the Pirates to lose any series against other competing teams. It is because of this reality that I believe Clint Hurdle needs to reconsider how he is managing games. Instead of approaching in-game situations by weighing the cost of decisions on future games, he needs to be maximizing his chance at winning the current game. There are not 100 games left in the season, there are less than 50 – and the Pirates need to try to win every single one.
I bring this point up to highlight Hurdle’s decision making during the second game of the Cardinals series.
Going into the 5th inning of that game, the Pirates had a huge momentum swing, since they had just scored three runs to tie the game at four. Both starting pitchers were struggling, and Hurdle made the correct decision to pull Ivan Nova before the 5th inning even started. In his place, Clint Hurdle put on the mound inexperienced rookie pitcher, Alex McRae. McRae immediately gave up two runs in the 5th inning and one run in the 6th inning – deflating the Pirates momentum and pushing the game out of reach.
Hurdle could have replaced Nova with any arm in the bullpen, no one was marked as unavailable for the game. But, instead of putting an experienced, high-quality bullpen arm (which the Pirates actually have a plethora of), Hurdle raised a white flag and threw McRae to the wolves. I could literally read the disappointment on the Pirates’ players faces. Of course the players were rooting for McRae to pitch well – but they were most certainly doubting Hurdle’s decision.
Clint Hurdle cannot throw away close games just because he is worried about over using the bullpen for some future game. We are past that point in the season. This sort of decision making is detrimental to the club, plan and simple. Win the game in front of you, and worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow.
Tyler Glasnow has had two great starts for the Tampa Bay Rays. FanGraphs put out an interesting article that highlights some of the changes that Glasnow has already made that could be helping. I am actually very interested to see how Glasnow pitches the rest of this season and during the entirety of the next. I have lost a lot of faith in the Pirates’ ability to develop young pitching. I have also lost a lot of faith in the Pirates’ current pitching strategy. Gerrit Cole leaving the Pirates and pitching lights out in Houston could just be a coincidence, if Glasnow does the same in Tampa, the Pirates will need to make some major adjustments in the pitching department.
Two players on the Pirates’ AAA affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians, combined to have a historic night this past week. Kevin Newman and Jacob Stallings both hit for the cycle in the same game. This has never happened in MLB before, but has happened at least on other time in the minor league system (that I can find). Either way, there is a lot to be excited about the Indians who currently sit at 64-51 on the season – good enough for a 4 game lead in the INT West division.
The future middle infield tandem for the Pirates are also performing extremely well in Indianapolis. Second baseman/shortstop Kevin Newman is batting .303 on the year with 27 stolen bases, and only 48 strikeouts across 419 at-bats. Even though Newman is not hitting for a lot of power (4 home runs), Newman is hitting for average and has above average speed and good to average defense. Second baseman Kevin Kramer is hitting .301 on the season with .840 OPS that is boosted by 12 home runs and 27 doubles. Both of these players are well on their way to solidifying starting positions on the 2019 Pirates’ team and could also be called up once rosters expand in late 2018.
One player that will no longer be exciting fans in Indianapolis is Jung Ho Kang.
Kang is officially out for the season and will be having surgery on his wrist. Other than Kang, the Pirates have done a good job clearing their disabled list on both the Big League and AAA rosters. The only other significant names that are out are Chad Kuhl and A.J. Schugel.
That’s all for this week! Let’s go Bucs!
The Pittsburgh Pirates week ahead:
August 10th – Pirates @ the Giants 10:15
August 11th – Pirates @ the Giants 9:05
August 12th – Pirates @ the Giants 4:05
August 14th – Pirates @ the Twins 8:10
August 15th – Pirates @ the Twins 1:10
August 16th – Cubs @ the Pirates 7:05