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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Halfway home

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SOUTH HILLS – Technically we’re a game beyond the halfway point, but with the first three months of the season down, and three months to go, the Pirates have weathered a trying first half of the season with a 42-40 mark.

Given everything that has happened — that Francisco Liriano has one win, that Gerrit Cole has missed nearly a month of time, that the bullpen has blown 14 saves – it’s pretty remarkable that the Pirates are above .500. Remember this was a club that was once eight games below .500. The Pirates were below .500 when they  lost Liriano and Cole to injuries. Frankly, I’m surprised the Pirates are above water, and so is so is a key decision maker.

Said Pirates GM Neal Huntington on Sunday:

“If you had told me that we were going to rely on Jeff Locke, Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton to be stabilizers in June I would have told you we are probably not in a very good situation,” Huntington.

No doubt.

I doubted the Pirates starting pitching depth earlier this season, but that depth proved me wrong in June and has the Pirates in the mix of things. That depth along with an uptick in offense since the beginning of May – and a recent favorable schedule – has this team in contention entering the second half of the season. The Pirates are 1.5 games out of a wild card spot.

Could the Pirates use some further bolstering, perhaps a proven veteran arm, or upgrade at shortstop? Sure. But that the Pirates are in position to be buyer and not sellers later in July is something of a victory.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS 

9. David Price is a pipedream but he would look great atop this rotation. Problem is Baseball Prospectus estimatew the Pirates would have to give up something like Tyler Glannow, Josh Bell and Nick Kingham for Price. That’s pretty steep for a 1.5 years of control. No way Huntington does that, I would guess.

8. Do you want AJ Burnett back? If the price is low enough it might make some sense but I don’t think it was just dollars that kept the Pirates from bringing back Burnett in the first place. There will be other veteran pitchers available and Burnett is not completely healthy.

7. Aside from an impact arm, the biggest need is shortstop. Ben Zobrist?

6. As Jon Heyman first reported, the Pirates and Gregory Polanco continue to talk contract. The Pirates have been very aggressive here, offering up to 10 years. That tells you all you need to know what they think about Polanco. Special, special player who will be given a day off Tuesday.

5. It’s just one game but it’s interesting that Pedro Alvarez was very pull-oriented Sunday and had success against Bartolo Colon, with a home run and a double to right. While I thought Alvarez had the right approach this season, while I think he’s made some improvements, maybe he’s sacrificed too much power with his opposite-field approach.

Alvarez has been so opposite-field focused that I’ve noticed defenses have been shifting less against him. That’s great. But what the Pirates really need Alvarez to do is hit the ball above shifts and above the wall.

4.  Remember Austin Meadows? He’ll make his 2014 debut this week and Huntington noted he did essentially re-injure his hamstring. Meadows had an excellent GCL debut. This might be something of a lost year but there’s still a lot to like here.

3. Josh Harrison has been the best story of the season. He’s been a ton of fun to watch.  But he’s not an All-Star.

2. Huntington said Alen Hanson has the “tools” to stick at the shortstop. Still, I’m hearing there’s been way too many physical and mental lapses from Hanson and that might explain the recent lengthy layoff.

1. Gerrit Cole was rusty in his first stat back but most important was that he was healthy. He hit 97 mph with his first pitch. He’ll be better next time out.

STAT OF THE WEEK 2.5

Projected WAR Harrison will produce in 2014 according to ZiPS. Upset of the season.

HE SAID IT

Hurdle has moved away from tradition before but he’s not willing to in the bullpen:

“No, I’m not going to move the closer. A defensive metric system is a change in area. A position change in the bullpen is a change in role. There is a significant difference in that. You cannot have played the game and understand, but I think it helps to have played.

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION

Dined at Meat and Potatoes for the first time last night. It’s tough to live up to the hype, but it was a quality experience with plus to plus-plus food.

– TS

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