Pittsburgh Pirates Splits With the Atlanta Braves: Now What?

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates earned a four-game series split with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday with a 7-5 victory at PNC Park.

This is coming off of a four-game series split against the perennial thorn-in-the-side Brewers in their house of horrors of American Family Park.

At the moment, the Pirates record is 52-63 and are 9 1/2 games behind the Brewers for the lead in the National League's Central division. The Bucs are also 7 1/2 games behind the Miami Marlins for the last wild card spot in the National League.

So, what do those splits mean for the Pirates?

In 2023, it means virtually nothing if we're being perfectly frank.

What it means for 2024 could be quite valuable if they take these splits for what they really could be.

Right now, this team is being built for the future, not for 2023.

Evidence? The current roster has 10 rookies and eight others with 135 games of experience or less. Add Jack Suwinski's minimal amount of 207 games played and it should drive home the point further.

Eleven others, including Oneil Cruz and Ji-Hwan Bae that are on the injured list, have less than a cumulative year of major league experience that have played for the Pirates this year. This illustrates both the youth and depth of the organization.

While the splits against Atlanta and Milwaukee mean nothing in the short-term, the confidence that this young group of Buccos can have could be immeasurable. Just knowing that they can go toe-to-toe with teams that they have had nothing but trouble from over the years can give them the knowledge that this could be a team to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

The Pirates have 47 games left including more against Atlanta and Milwaukee. Each game will have zero impact on the 2023 season.

Each game they play will be for setting the tone for 2024 and beyond. With each quality win, it only builds fan excitement and player confidence for the future.

With experience, this system is full of plenty of men that can fill a lineup and compete on a daily basis for the near future. It's just a matter of where they can find a place in the field.

It's also a matter of whether or not the front office will keep Andy Haines as hitting instructor considering this team strikes out at an embarrassing rate, including taking called third strikes when the game is on the line.

The question going forward about how competitive Pittsburgh will become will be about the quality of pitching the Pirates' system really has.

The starting pitching has been inconsistent, which is a nice way to put it.

Bright spots include the development of Johan Oviedo and the FIRST HALF performance of Mitch Keller. Truly, Keller earned his All-Star appearance.

However, an All-Star Game invitation is based on what a player has done for half a year, in reality. The second half performance of Keller might make people think he would be in line for a demotion to Indianapolis at this rate.

Keller has won only once since June 12. He has an ERA of 5.95 in that span, striking out 53 and walking 20, which is not exactly All-Star numbers.

Add the losses of J.T. Brubaker and Vince Velasquez to long-term injury and the quality disappearance of hopefuls Luis Ortiz and Roansy Contreras and concern of who will take the bump every fifth day in 2024 will be the biggest question mark.

On a positive note, Contreras threw three scoreless innings yesterday in his first start for Indianapolis since being brought back up from his reset mission in minor league camp.

Right now, rounding out the rotation aside from Keller and Oviedo are rookie Quinn Priester, who is getting his feet wet on the major league level with mixed results, and Bailey Falter, acquired in a last-minute deadline deal for Rodolfo Castro, a move made that demonstrates the system depth of middle infielders. Can one really rely on a pitcher named falter?

Osvoldo Bido had been their fifth starter for the last couple of months, but he was demoted to Indianapolis.

The Pirates have yet to announce who will be their starter on Saturday against Cincinnati. One can only speculate who that will be at this point.

The truth is that most of the quality pitching depth like Anthony Solometo, Bubba Chandler, and Thomas Harrington are two or three years away from reaching Pittsburgh.

For 2024, possible new candidates for the starting rotation are Jared Jones, Michael Burrows, and maybe even number-one overall draft choice Paul Skenes.

On the negative side, Jones was just rocked for six earned runs in only three innings in his latest start against Nashville, Burrows has missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery, and Skenes has pitched precisely one inning of professional baseball, albeit a dominant one. So, expectations might be tempered on that group of three.

In the bullpen, results have been mixed, but are encouraging for the future.

David Bednar, while scuffling recently, will be the closer for at least the next few years, and the Pittsburgh favorite is deservedly so.

Lately, Carmen Mlodzinski and Colin Holderman proven they can be slotted into seventh and eighth inning setup roles with the possibility of closing a game, as Holderman did Thursday.

A left-hander out of the bullpen that can be relied upon in the seventh or eighth innings are a necessity, but the Pirates have had solid performances from waiver pickups Angel Perdomo and Ryan Borucki along with rookie Jose Hernandez give the Pirates hope in that area.

In short, watching the Pirates play so well against Milwaukee and Atlanta gives all indications that the needle is pointing up for the "Young Bucs" and excitement can still be had for the rest of 2023.

This team has gotten younger as the season has gone along and the main reason they are currently eleven games under .500 isn't because of talent, but mainly because of the inconsistency of youth and inexperience. That should be expected by now and that should also continue throughout the last 47 games.

We can expect to see some frustratingly inept play at times, but we may see some miraculous ones, as well. Honestly, expect to see both.

Without much of a veteran presence, you can probably expect the former rather than the latter.

On a side note, who wouldn't like to see Carlos Santana return in 2024? That would take care of veteran leadership and the presumed hole at first base at the same time.

So, while we're not going to see this team contend, one should appreciate accomplishments such as these splits against Atlanta and Milwaukee as signs for 2024 and beyond that maybe, just maybe, there's a contender coming to PNC Park sooner than later.