Pittsburgh Pirates: What if Jung Ho Kang Didn’t Get Hurt in 2015?

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The 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the best teams in franchise history, but their postseason trip was short lived. There is a major injury ‘what if’ that will always hang over that squad.

Regardless of how anyone wants to spin it, the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the best teams in franchise history. The team won 98 games, which tied three other clubs for the third most wins in a single season in franchise history. It was also the second most wins in the MLB in 2015.

The problem that season is that the team that won the most games in the MLB was also in the National League Central. While the Pittsburgh Pirates won 98 games, their NL Central rival St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games. Due to this, the Pirates found themselves hosting the NL Wild Card Game for a third consecutive season.

In the 2015 NL Wild Card Game, the Pittsburgh Pirates were defeated by the Chicago Cubs 4-0. That night, the Cubs were carried by Jake Arrieta who entered that game on the hottest streak for a starting pitcher in MLB history.

Due to the hot streak Arrieta was on, the odds were stacked against the Pirates from the get go that night. However, there is one major ‘what if’ about their 2015 season. A ‘what if’ that may have prevented the team from having to play in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game. That ‘what if’ question is what if Jung Ho Kang had not gotten hurt?

As a rookie in 2015, the former KBO star burst onto the scene. With the Pirates, Kang hit for a .287/.355/.461 slash line in 467 plate appearances across 126 games. He hit 15 home runs, posted a .173 ISO, a 128 wRC+, and was worth a 3.7 fWAR. Kang was one of the best rookies in the MLB in 2015.

Playing both third base and shortstop, Kang became a key middle of the lineup bat for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015. However, his outstanding 2015 season that saw him become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh and a story across all of off baseball, came to a screeching halt on September 17.

Facing the Cubs that day, Kang’s leg was destroyed. A dirty slide by the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan led to Kang’s leg being destroyed and requiring multiple surgeries. In fact, he would not play at the MLB level again until May 2016 due to the injuries.

So, what if Kang had not gotten injured that day?

Even if the Pittsburgh Pirates would have still wound up in the NL Wild Card Game, with Kang in the line up they would have been better suited to defeat Arrieta that night. Kang was the team’s best hitter that season not named Andrew McCutchen. So, having his power bat in the middle of the line up likely would have made a big difference that night.

After Kang was injured, the team averaged just 4.3 runs per game. In the 16 games he missed, the team still went 11-5. However, there are games that jump out where Kang could have made a difference and helped them capture the division crown.

On September 28, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the eventual division champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-0. With Kang’s bat, the team may have avoided being shutout and captured victory that night. Winning that game alone would have put them into a tie a top the division with the Cardinals. There was also a 3-1 loss to the Reds and a 2-0 loss against the Cubs where, again, Kang’s bat could have made a difference and helped the team get those extra wins they needed to take the division.

Even when you look at the Wild Card Game, there are spots where Kang’s bat could have made a difference. For example, in the bottom of the 6th inning the Pirates damn near knocked Arrieta, who went on to throw a complete game shut out, out of he game.

Pinch hitter Travis Snider singled to start the inning, Gregory Polanco hit a 100 MPH+ missile but right at Kris Bryant for an out, Josh Harrison was hit by a pitch, and Andrew McCutchen single. At this point, the bases were loaded with one out for Starling Marte.

With Kang, the usual clean up hitter, out of the line up, Marte had clean up duties that night. While Marte, like Polanco, hit a missile at 100+ MPH, it was fielded by Addison Russell who turned it into an inning ending 6-4-3 double play.

What if Kang was the one to step to the plate there? Would he have gotten a base hit to score multiple runs, send the crowd into a frenzy, start to rattle Arrieta, and potentially start a Pirate rally? Sadly, we will never know.

Next. Talking Life, Baseball With Minor League Manager Kieran Mattison. dark

It is far from a guarantee that the Pirates would have won the NL Central in 2015 had the Cubs not taken Kang out. However, their odds undoubtedly would have improved. They also would have had a better shot at defeating the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh Pirates fans will always have to live with the ‘what if’ when it comes to Kang and the 2015 season. Because, when the team was at full strength, many people, myself included, would tell you the Pirates were the best team in baseball in 2015 and built to win the World Series.

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