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Pittsburgh, we have a problem

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SOUTH HILLS – This was supposed to be a blog entry recapping the feel-good story that was Gregory Polanco Day at PNC Park. (The Polanco statue to be unveiled next week  on the river walk). Baseball Gods usually laugh at your plans, though. And while it was Polanco’s day at PNC Park, it really become the story of Francisco Liriano’s left oblique.

An injury to Liriano was about the last thing the Pirates needed to see (outside a shoulder injury to Gerrit Cole). The reality is, the Pirates might not see Liriano until late July. The reality is that puts their 2014 hopes on the brink.

*On Sunday, the Pirates placed Cole the disabled list with shoulder fatigue.

*On Monday one of the anchors of the Pirates’ lineup, Neil Walker, had an appendectomy and went on the DL.

*On Tuesday, Liriano’s injury will almost certainly result in a DL trip – and a lengthy one.

According to a 2002-07 study of oblique injuries by the head of the Dodgers’ medical staff, Stan Conte, oblique injuries, on average, cost pitchers 44 days on the disabled list. That’s a late July return for Liriano.

Now Jason Grilli only missed 32 days (only, right?) with a oblique strain earlier this year but he also doesn’t have the workload of a starter. A team can live without a reliever for a bit, not a top-of-the-rotation starter.

The reality is the Pirates are going to be without Liriano – their Opening Day starter – for some time.

That’s tough for a lot of teams to overcome, especially one that’s already dug  a-below-.500 hole. And the club’s real No. 1, Cole, is also on the shelf, though the club is optimistic he won’t miss much time beyond.

What’s left at the moment is Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Cumpton, Jeff Locke and … Vance Worley?

Yes, Liriano hadn’t been great. But he still has the best swing-and-miss stuff on the staff, his FIP suggests he’s been unlucky to a degree, and the Pirates needed him to regress and return  to his 2013 form to get back in the race.

How are the Pirates to weather this injury storm without outside help? And RE: Outside Help. Have you seen the costs of acquiring stating pitcher? Especially pitchers with years of control?

The Pirates also of course lost AJ Burnett over the winter.

Many, including yours truly, thought they should have brought in a proven rotation arm in addition to Volquez. I thought Scott Kazmir and Doug Fister were excellent acquisitions at reasonable prices.

What might have happened was this: the Pirates were counting on Jameson Taillon also arriving near or on Polanco Day. They were hoping Taillon could be a Cole like top-of-the-rotation force late in the season.

As good as Polanco is and will be it was Taillon who could have provided a bigger impact in 2014.

It is the loss of Taillon and Liriano – and we’ll see on Cole – that has this season on the brink. Polanco might just have to be Yasiel Puig to save it.

– TS

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