SOUTH HILLS – The Pirates are testing your cardiac health, I’m sure. The Pirates’ own health has placed them in quite a heart-sinking bind.
After the Andrew McCutchen injury I wondered in this Web space if the Pirates’ season was again on the brink. The Pirates responded with surprising resiliency, but it came mostly against teams like the Padres and Marlins. The Pirates have had the benefit of a relatively light schedule the first month after the All-Star break.
This past week the schedule toughened. The Pirates responded with an 0-for-5 road trip. This tougher stretch of schedule continues today with a three-game set opening against Atlanta, divisional play resumes this weekend at Milwaukee, and the Pirates return to face the Cardinals. The Pirates cannot afford having their next 10 days go like the last five when they did not at all look like a postseason-caliber team.
We can talk about the bullpen usage and the trades of Jason Grilli and Bryan Morris, we can talk about the missed ball four call on Ike Davis (that’s where home-field advantage shows up see: Scorecasting), we can talk about why Michael Martinez is playing left field …
— Dan Zangrilli (@DanZangrilli) August 18, 2014
The bottom line is for the Pirates to right themselves and remain in this race, they have to have their best player and most critical players – McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Jordy Mercer, Neil Walker and Charlie Morton – in the lineup, healthy and at or near 100 percent capacity.
Baseball is about attrition more than any other sport primarily because there’s so many games and pitcher’s elbows are so brittle. Teams often end the season looking much more different than they began. The Pirates have weathered injury very well to date, but now the schedule will be against them. Division play is about to heat up and the Bucs play only nine home games in September.
Yes, there’s a lot of baseball left but it’s not going to matter much if the Pirates can’t get key pieces back healthy. The history of players returning quickly from rib injuries isn’t great, Cole has not recovered well after his early rehab starts (though his recent work is encouraging), Morton’s hip is barking (apparently), and back injuries (Walker) can linger.
The season is really on the brink this time. Get well soon, ‘Cutch.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. Remarkably, the Pirates’ bullpen blew two saves on Sunday, to give it the NL lead at 21. It’s another reminder of how quickly surpluses can be exhausted and the unpredictable nature of bullpens from year to year.
8. Of course, it’s too bad Jared Hughes‘ and the ‘pen were credited with blown-save No. 20 as an Ike Davis throwing error was the real culprit Sunday ,and Pedro Alvarez’s 24th throwing error let another run in.
Unlike most of his throwing errors, which have come on routine chances with Alvarez moving to his left, Alvarez was on the move forward and flipped a ball way too high to Russell Martin. Alvarez didn’t have as much time to think on that chance and it was still errant. Steve Sax has offered to speak with Alvarez, when speaking with me for a profile on Alvarez’s issues last week. Alvarez should take him up on that. Alvarez was replaced late in the game by Jayson Nix.
7. The Pirates have to hope giving Morton some rest time on the DL will allow him to get back some of his stuff. His two-seamer has not been the electric pitch it was last year as he’s lost two mph.
6. Placing Morton on the DL will allow the Pirates to get Cole back in the rotation. The Pirates certainly haven’t rushed back Cole, who made four rehab starts. Cole sat at 95 mph in his last start and touched 99 mph in seven shutout innings. The Pirates need Cole to be the impact arm he was last September as the schedule toughens.
5. One interesting note on Cole: Hurdle suggested to several of us scribes that we look at the performance of starting pitchers coming back after typical, 1-2 start rehab stint. The indication was – apparently backed by research – is that they struggled. Maybe this prolonged rehab will allow Cole to be himself in his first start back.
4. So Josh Harrison can also play a competent shortstop? The ultimate Swiss Army knife.
3. Did we mention that Brandon McCarthy and Doug Fister (and Phil Hughes and/or Scott Kazmir) would have been perfect fits for the Pirates’ groundball and shift-heavy philosophy and/or PNC Park? The Pirates have missed on some starting pitcher value, beginning in the offseason.
2. If you thought the Pirates reasoning for holding Gregory Polanco back until June – that he had to work on his outfield defense – was completely disingenuous, well, it wasn’t. Polanco continues to struggle on balls hit over his head and took a very poor route on a key fly ball in the ninth inning Saturday.
1. Could Alvarez have a temporary home in the corner outfield while McCutchen is out?
STAT OF THE WEEK: 3
Edinson Volquez become the first Pirates pitcher to reach 10 wins this season. In case you missed it, Baseball America rated his fastball as the third best in the National League. Hard to believe, but Volquez does have an electric arm.
HE SAID IT
“I don’t want to stiff the governor,” – Neil Walker responding to Gov. Tom Corbett after Corbett nominated Walker and Phillies lefty Cliff Lee to take the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” an online fundraiser for the ALS Association to battle Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
HE SAID IT II
Clint Hurdle on Andrew Lambo: “For what we need … how much is (Lambo) going to play? Do you want Lambo playing in front of (Travis) Snider? I don’t. You want Lambo playing in front of (Gregory) Polanco? I don’t. You want Lambo playing in front of (Starling) Marte? I don’t. And he’s not going to play first base in front of anybody right now.”
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK
I’ve yet to see it but I’ve heard some excellent things about the movie “Boyhood” … which is now playing in select theatres.