With the possibility of a regular season consisting of around 50-60 games, could the Pittsburgh Pirates make the 2020 postseaon?
In the most recent reports, it looks like the 2020 MLB season could be way less games than we thought. We knew it obviously wasn’t going to be 162 games, but somewhere between 80-100 seemed like a possibility. However, even that looks like a stretch right now for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of MLB.
Ken Rosenthal revealed that the MLB is threatening a 50-game season after a heated debate about player salaries.
But if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a possibility of two extra teams making the postseason in each league as well.
In a 50-game season, anything can happen, and with expanded playoffs, everyone could be a contender. Last year going into June 1st, the Pittsburgh Pirates were 28-28. They were only 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, and 3 and a half out of the division. This was after an 8 game losing streak. Had they gone 4-4, or even 2-6, it wouldn’t have been completely out of the question they would have a Wild Card spot in June. Also on June 1st, the Seattle Mariners (25-35) and Washington Nationals (24-33) had almost identical records, and Josh Bell had a slugging percentage over .700.
So, is it possible the Pittsburgh Pirates could make the postseason if the regular season is less than 60 games? I honestly don’t think it’s completely absurd to think it’s a possibility. If you look at it, they only lost one significant piece of the roster over this past off season. That player being Starling Marte, but it’s not like trading Marte meant they were trading a consistent 8-10 WAR player. Last year, he was worth roughly 3 WAR, which isn’t irreplaceable.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will also have tons of young talent coming to the majors. With service time and Super 2 status likely not playing a factor in the 2020 season, the Pirates will likely call-up top third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes. If his early spring training stats were any indication of if he improved or not, Hayes could be a solid batter to go with his outstanding defense at third base. Plus considering his 55 future hit grade, and 92 MPH exit velocity, him keeping up good production like he had in spring training isn’t impossible. Hayes could easily replace the value of a 3 WAR player that was lost when they traded Marte.
But that’s not the only young face the Pittsburgh Pirates will see next year. Cole Tucker could play a large role just with his defense alone. Combined with his solid walk rate, and speed, Tucker could be a very good leadoff man. Before spring training ended, the switch hitter had collected 8 hits, 3 of which were home runs and one being a double, and 4 walks.
Another rookie that is set for a larger role is Mitch Keller. I consider Keller probably the most underrated National League Rookie of the Year candidate. His 7.13 ERA really turned a lot of people off, but he still had outstanding ERA predictors like a 3.19 FIP, 3.47 xFIP, and 3.78 SIERA. Plus considering the Pirates’ top pitching prospect was the best pitcher at Triple-A last season, and Keller is primed for a great season in 2020.
The Pittsburgh Pirates also have a ton of bounce back candidates. Those candidates include Gregory Polanco, Trevor Williams, Kyle Crick, and Richard Rodriguez. They also have just as many breakout candidates in Michael Feliz, Geoff Hartlieb, Clay Holmes, and Joe Musgrove. All of these players will be joined by Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, Adam Frazier, Jacob Stallings, and Bell.
Speaking of Bell, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be adding more value by having a universal DH in their line-up. Keeping Bell and Colin Moran off the field will definitely help the team keep runs off the board. Last year, the two corner infielders combined for -29 defensive runs. Plus with other average to above average fielders who can handle first base like Jose Osuna and Will Craig, the Pirates will be set for much better defense at first and third base.
This is also going to depend on who the Pirates are in a division with. If it is the previously speculated division where the Pirates are playing against the Yankees, Blue Jays, Phillies and Tigers, then it’s going to be harder, but not impossible. Like I said anything can happen in 50 games, and we know the Pirates can be an extremely streaky team.
But this doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh Pirates should go all in. There’s just as much of a chance of the Pirates going on a hot streak and somehow finding themselves in a postseason spot, than them completely faltering and failing to reach the postseason. The Pirates shouldn’t be trading top prospects for major league players. The only reason I would see them trading for major league talent is if they only have to give up a few fringe minor leaguers or a lottery ticket prospect, which might be the price of some higher tier rental players if they only have two or so months left on their contract in a 50-60 game season.
So the question we come down to is can the Pittsburgh Pirates make the playoffs in a 50-60 game season with two extra teams making the postseason? Yes, there is absolutely a chance. It’s not out of the question that with so many teams being added to the playoffs, a below .500 team or one hovering right around .500 could make it if they implement two more playoff teams. But don’t start holding your breath. The Pirates can go on a hot streak, like when they were 28-28 on June 1st, or 24-20 on May 19th, they could easily go on an extremely cold streak like when they went 3-16 in July after the All-Star Break. Right now, FanGraphs puts them with a 14% chance of making the playoffs. But speaking the season is likely going to be so short, a hot streak can change that by a reasonable amount.