20 years, that’s how long the city of Pittsburgh had to pretend they only had a hockey and football team. That was the longest losing streak by any sports team in the United States, but at least they aren’t the Cubs right? Last year that streak ended with the Pirates finishing with a 94-68 record and winning the 1st wildcard spot. The streak was mercifully over, the young core of Pirate players looked primed and young enough to keep their success and maybe start a new 20 year streak, this time in the opposite direction. This year the Pirates head into the All-Star break with a 49-46 record and sit 4th in their division with a -2 run differential. Probably not were they hoped they would be going into the season, but it’s not all bad. The Pirates are only 2.5 games behind the 2nd wildcard race, actually there’s still a handful of teams competing for the wildcard spots in the NL, anything is possible.
So how did it come to this? Well the division is one of the strongest.
The Cardinals will always be competitive, like they always do. They have elite talent right now and they still have one of the best farm systems. Hopefully Wacha’s injury isn’t too serious, but Adam Wainwright can carry a staff by himself. I’d love to see what Oscar Taveras could do with full playing time, but losing Yadier Molina for a while hurts.
The Brewers are looking they’ll be strong for a few more years with chief rule breaker Ryan Braun still hitting in his prime. Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy look to be very good for a long time. Francisco Rodriguez has looked great closing everywhere outside of NY…not bitter at all.
The Reds have been wrecked by injuries this season, they lost Votto, Latos, Bruce, Chapman, Phillips, and a whole bunch of other people I’m probably forgetting, for extended periods of time. Somehow they’re still in the thick of the race, with no small thanks to ace pitcher Johnny Cueto, and to a very underrated degree Mike Leake, and young breakout stars Todd Frazier, Billy Hamilton, and Devin Mesoraco. It’s scary to think how talented the Reds could be healthy.
The Cubs are a joke now, but are looking really good for the future, especially with the bundle of prospects acquired from the A’s. So the weakest team in the division could be one of the strongest when the all the Pirates are hitting their prime years. This division is no joke, and explains why the Pirates haven’t been as dominant as last year.
So where does this leave the Pirates? They have negative run differential, but they seem to be improving ever since the Polanco call up. Let’s start looking at the Pirates.
I can’t remember an OF this talented and home-grown, and this is why Pittsburgh fans should be excited and not worried about regressing back to the dark years again. All of them seem to be 5 tool center fielders, the expansive PNC outfield looks a whole lot smaller with those 3 out there. I also love how the three bat 1-2-3 for the Buccos sometimes, how cool is that? Andrew McCutchen could be the best CF in baseball right now and Clutch will be a consistent source of elite production for years to come. Plus he does some of the best impressions of baseball guys I’ve seen and he got his own ESPN commercial. Just look at him! Look how cool he is.
McCutchen’s .325/.422/.573 at the All-Star break is better than his MVP finish last year and he’ll probably beat his 21 HRs from last year, he currently has 17. Starling Marte went through a seriously K rough patch in April, he’s still striking out a ton now, but at least it’s down. The talent is still there and his defense is still impressive, I think people may be disappointed in his performance because he had to be compared to McCutchen, the bar couldn’t have been set higher. Gregory Polanco looks like a giant compared to the other two and I think his call up has taken the pressure off Marte. He’s passed my eye test so far. He’s been walking at a 12% clip, you could learn a thing or two Marte!, and actually continuing to mash it at the pro level. Waiting until after the Super 2 status for Polanco means that the Pirates have a cost friendly OF under control for several years.
It seems the Mets and the Pirates seem to have become trade buddies these past 2 seasons. Ike Davis has been playing alright for the Buccos since being traded from the Mets, I remember him getting a Grand Slam a few days after joining the Pirates, but has been rather meh since in his platoon time share with Gaby Sanchez. Another guy from NY, Russel Martin had more luck last year and is having troubles staying on the field. I’m surprised Neil Walker has never had a season with over 16 HRs, but assuming he’ll be healthy he should achieve over that easily. Josh Harrison has had a sort of super utility role this year and has performed admirably enough to earn himself an All-Star nod. Usually utility players are sort of overlooked, so I’m glad to see him getting some recognition. Pedro Alveraz has 15 HRs and a .239 batting average, not exactly what the Pirates were expecting. He’s actually cut down on his K rate by 6%, from 30% last year, and increased his walk rate by 3%. He’ll never hit for average, but at least his OBP is above .300. His ISO and HR/FB rate are both down, but then again his BABIP is higher than it was last year. He’s only 27, that magical age in baseball, and I think he could bounce back in the second half. Jordy Mercer hasn’t really done anything too special this year either, this offense right now is relying on McCutchen, but I can see some players turning it around in the 2nd half.
Gerrit Cole suffered an injury, again, but I think the future remains bright for him, he was selected 1st overall for a reason. Francisco Liriano was untouchable last year, but looks hittable, very hittable, this year. Hopefully he turns ship around, the Pirates need him to do it if they want to win the division. Jameson Tallion, someone they could have called up this year to give them a boost on the pitching side had to undergo Tommy John surgery at the start of the season. It’s almost a right of passage now, unfortunately. Charlie Morton has been having a very quite and very solid year, hopefully he can remain healthy and keep the Bucs competitive. Jeff Locke was lights out before imploding last year towards the end of the season, but now he’s seemed to regain some of that dominance this year. With Ray Searage as pitching coach I can believe in a lot of pitchers here, he’s made Edison Volquez into a sub 4 ERA pitcher again, no small feat as he hasn’t done that since 2008 with the Reds. I feel like Volquez is trying to throw for control rather than velocity now.
They had one of the best bullpens last year while only being above average this year. An electric year from Tony Watson has certainly helped. Enesto Frieri was traded for a grilled cheese sandwich. This is the sort of trade that happens in a fantasy league for the sake of making a trade, so I was perplexed why the Buccos would trade their beloved grilled cheese for a similar lost cause. I guess Grilli just needed a change in scenery, not every team can have a Mo or Trevor Hoffman, usually bullpens undergo changes every year. Maybe the Angels can borrow his entrance video? Mark Melacon, ever since being traded from Houston, has been lights out for this team. He handled the closer role last year with ease, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him successful again.
The Pittsburgh Pirates should be a very good team for a while, but at the same time the division it’ll be tough playing in one of the tougher divisions. At least they don’t have to worry about the Astros anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pirates turned it on in the second half to win the division, but I think ultimately their future looks brighter next season than this one with a more experienced outfield and healthier pitchers. That 20 losing season streak is long gone now.