SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – While the Pirates avoided a sweep Sunday, the weekend was not how the club wanted to emerge from the break. And while one series is a small sample size, season-long issues continue to linger, namely hitting, or rather, not hitting, with runners in scoring position (2 for 27 this weekend).
The Pirates are not without flaws, and flaws will become more magnified in the second half if they are not addressed.
Considering the Pirates’ difficult remaining schedule – they have 23 games remaining against the best club (St. Louis) and third-best club (Cincinnati) in the NL – standing pat might not get this club into the postseason.
I don’t need to tell you that have suffered through 21 straight losing seasons what a playoff appearance would mean.
During this drought the Pirates have fallen to third in the pecking order among the city’s major sports teams. They have put at risk a generation of fans, damaging their brand and perception. A postseason run would mean an awful lot. Not just from a dollars, bottom-line standpoint, but in regaining public trust and confidence.
So that leads me to this question: with a good but imperfect team on the cusp of the special season how much of tomorrow do you sell for today? That tomorrow also looks pretty bright with one of the best farm systems in baseball. But consider tomorrow offers no promises, particularly when AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli and Russell Martin are not under contract in 2015.
Pirates GM Neal Huntington is trying to balance tomorrow and today as the trading deadline approaches.
“There are many examples of clubs that have pushed too hard for today at the expense of tomorrow,” Huntington said. “At the same time, today really means a lot. This is a club we believe in and we want to do what we can to help it take that next step. We want to reward this fan base, which has really been patient. It’s been a long time, and we’re definitely cognizant of that.”
“There are areas where we’re looking to improve, but it’s not a desperation where we’ve got to do whatever we have to do. We’ve got some guys who we believe are going to have stronger second halves offensively. We’ve got some guys in the system who can help us. It’s not a situation where we don’t have any weaknesses. We just don’t have a desperate weakness, in our minds.”
A man with decisions to make …
Huntington is not going to trade Jameson Taillon or Gregory Polanco for Alexei Ramirez. I’m not suggesting the Pirates make a desperation move, but after watching the last few weeks unfold, it might be worth throwing in an extra B-level chip for an upgrade, for Hunter Pence, for Kendry Morales, or someone of that ilk. There are some areas in desperate need of help. And there could be much to lose in being idle.
9. Jeff Locke continued to demonstrate his 2013 is anything but a fluke, allowing one hit over six innings to improve to 9-2.
According to Baseball Info Solutions, Locke is essentially throwing the same three-pitch mix he was last season. But as he told me earlier this season he is throwing a high percentage of two-seam fastballs, something that is not being picked up on by PitchFx, apparently.
8. The other thing helping Locke is an elite Pirate defense that has been ultra efficient defensive thanks to an increase in shifts, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen in the outfield and Russell Martin behind the plate. Pitching and defense are part of the same ecosystem.
7. Jason Grilli is not yet the victim of a Sports Illustraded cover jinx … yet.
6. Homer Bailey is good, sure. But 12 Ks?
The Pirates continue to strikeout way too often, especially in the context of their lack of power. One way the Bucs could improve offensive production is to simply put the ball in play more often. Is that all ability? Or does the team require an approach change?
5. Jordy Mercer hasn’t walked since July 5 and he hasn’t homered since June 21st. The Pirates have an NL-worst OPS from right fielders but I also understand the interest in Ramirez. Mercer is a young player who is trying to figure it out on the fly, in a pennant race, in his first MLB season.
4. Maybe no one should every participate in the home run derby. The champ, Yoenis Cespedes, is down with a bum wrist, and Pedro Alvarez is 0-for-13 since his return.
3. Do teams over value prospects? A 10-year study of top 10 overall Baseball America prospects showed 53 percent of the pitchers earned bust status.
2. Starling Marte was ranked 31st in baseball in trade value according to Fangraphs (McCutchen was 4th). Does Marte crack the top 20 next year? The power is going to come, I think.
1. One thing to watch with Liriano: strike one.
He entered his start Friday with the second-best first-strike percentage of his career 56.3 but threw first-pitch strikes to just 9 of 21 batters.
STAT OF THE WEEK: You’re probably aware of this but since 2011 …
Pirates’ record before All-Star break: 151-117.
Pirates’ record after All-Star break: 57-95.
HE SAID IT:
“He’s a good guy to have in your corner,” former Rockies catcher Ben Petrick on Clint Hurdle. Joe Starkey wrote a terrific piece on the “angel” that found Hurdle.
Lake Como, Italy. We spent much of our European trip in major cities but if I had to do it over again I’d make more time for the charming and more relaxed small towns, especially this ancient lake town in Alpine foothills near the Swiss border.