First Pitch: The Pirates Are Waking Up at the Right Time

About a week ago, I was thinking up an article that would focus on every single thing that was going wrong for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, leading to their struggles. They were coming off a few wins, so it didn’t seem like the right time to post the article. One week later, they’re wrapping up a successful road trip, and a better article would be something discussing how the team is climbing back into the playoff race.

After beating the Padres tonight, for the third night in a row, the Pirates find themselves 6-3 on this ten game road trip. They currently sit two games below .500, and two games back from the second Wild Card spot. A big reason for the latter is that no one has really stepped up yet to run away from the rest of the pack. There are currently six teams within two games of the second Wild Card spot, not counting Miami and Los Angeles, who currently occupy the two spots.

At some point, a few of these teams will start running away from the rest of the pack. I think the Pirates have the talent to be one of those teams.

A lot has been going right for the Pirates lately. The first base platoon is working as expected. Neil Walker is having a career year at the plate. Andrew McCutchen is just being one of the best players in the league, as usual. Josh Harrison has been unreal, raising questions about where he will play when Gregory Polanco arrives. The starting pitchers are beginning to pitch as expected, with great outings lately from Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton. The bullpen seems stronger with Jason Grilli healthy, Mark Melancon in the setup role, and Justin Wilson and Tony Watson pitching great in meaningful innings.

Even with all of these things going right, there’s still room for improvement in the following areas:

**Pedro Alvarez is having a poor season, with a .715 OPS. He’s been a streaky player in his career, going on massive hot streaks, and big cold streaks. It looks like he might be heating up. Alvarez is 10-for-32 with two homers on this road trip, playing in a lot of pitcher friendly parks. Imagine the boost the Pirates can get if Alvarez goes on one of his hot streaks, where he crushes everything in sight. Those tend to happen in June, where he has a career .888 OPS. July is his second best month, with a .782 OPS in his career. If Josh Harrison platoons with him against lefties, that could improve the overall numbers at third base.

**Starling Marte had a horrible April, which featured an increased walk rate, and a horrible strikeout rate. In the month of May, he quietly reverted back to the hitter he’s been in the past, which is a productive hitter who strikes out and doesn’t draw walks. Marte had a .265/.321/.459 line. His walk rate dropped to 4.7%, but his strikeout rate also dropped to 23.6%. His power was excellent, leading to a .780 OPS. I’m fine with Marte putting up a walk rate below 5% and a strikeout rate around 23-25%, as long as the power is there. It has worked for him the last two years, and it worked for him in May. The Pirates will get much better production out of Marte if they just let him be who he is at the plate.

**Gregory Polanco is about a week away, by my best guess. It’s not like the Pirates are hurting in right field with the way Harrison has been playing lately. If Harrison’s bat stays hot, then the Pirates could move him to other positions. He could platoon at third base against lefties, take some starts at shortstop if Jordy Mercer continues to struggle, and start a few games in the outfield when Marte or Polanco need a break. The Pirates could manage to get Harrison 3-4 starts per week as a super utility player, while also getting the benefit of Polanco’s bat in right field.

**Francisco Liriano is going to be much better than what we’ve seen this year. Keep in mind that Liriano didn’t really play an impact last year by this point. He only had four starts through the month of May. From June to the end of the season, Liriano had a 3.13 ERA in 138 innings, with a 135:55 K/BB ratio. He has a 3.47 xFIP compared to a 4.62 ERA. Expect his future starts to be closer to his last outing.

The Pirates could get a huge boost with Polanco leading off, Alvarez and Marte hitting well in the middle of the order, and Liriano getting back to the 2013 version that looked like a top of the rotation guy at times. They might not get all of that going forward. However, they haven’t gotten any of that this season. So even if one or two of these guys doesn’t turn things around (or in Polanco’s case, doesn’t take MLB by storm), the Pirates will still benefit, and will be a stronger overall team.

Coming into the season, I said the Pirates were contenders. I still think they’re contenders. They got off to a horrible start this year, which put them in a hole that was hard to dig out of. They’re not out of that hole yet, but the fact that no one has pulled away in the Wild Card race yet has made it easier for them to get back in the picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish the month of June on the right side of .500, and sitting in one of the Wild Card spots. This looks like a team that is waking up just at the right time.

Links and Notes

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Garcia Homers; Kuhl Continues Strong Pitching From Bradenton

**Josh Bell and Orlando Castro Named to FSL All-Star Team

**Reese McGuire and Erich Weiss Named To SAL All-Star Game

**Prospect Highlights: More Strong Defense By Gregory Polanco, RBI Hit From Alen Hanson

**Minor League Schedule: John Kuchno Looks to Build Off Best Start of the Season

2014 Draft

**Third Mock Draft From Keith Law Has College Outfielder Falling to Pirates

**Updated Top 500 Draft Rankings From Baseball America

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

    Anyone notice which team had the NL’s #2 batting average, #1 OBP, #2 BABIP, and 2nd lowest K% for the month of May? Your Pittsburgh Pirates.

    • glassers

      I saw that also Andy and quite frankly was surprised .

  • emjayinTN

    Things are starting to come together and transforming into wins, rather than close game losses. The pitching has been much better lately, especially the outings of Cole, Liriano, and Volquez. I liked the fact that Morton only gave up 3 hits in 5 IP, but when you add in the 3 Walks and 3 hit batsmen, that’s 9 baserunners in 5 innings, and that is inviting trouble. I am waiting for one of those games like last year where he went 7 or 8 innings with very few walks and a high number of K’s before I throw a “great” tag out there. Walker is having an outstanding start of 2014, and it was nice to see Pedro get a big hit. This is a very solid lineup which could get much better. I would love to see a Bucco sweep today. And, that umpire behind the plate had to be a relative of that first pitcher out there for SD last night. PITIFUL! The Pirates have clawed their way back into the fight for the playoffs, and it would be nice to see this team continue this strong pace right up into the AS Break.

    • lonleylibertarian

      I love these umpire rants – I think the Padres were actually a bit more upset with him than the Bucs – Cole got a nice strikeout on a pitch that was a couple of inches off of the plate – and a few other calls that were marginal.

      All umpires are now graded on the “grid” every game – and if they score badly they risk a demotion – so yes bad calls happen – they always have and always will – but they happen both ways…

  • bucsws2014

    Things are definitely looking up. It’s a better team than its record, IMO.

    However, a few notes on the article: We’re 58 games into the season and we haven’t had a “great” start yet. If you look at the top 50 starts in the NL thus far (by Game Score), Cards have 5, Reds have 5, Brewers have 5, Cubs have 2. Pirates have 0. So please, let’s dial back the over-enthusiasm over calling any Cole/Morton/Liriano start thusfar “great”.

    The main reason pitching is better and runs allowed are down is because the bullpen has found its stride.

    If Polanco leads off from Day One, expect a dropoff in production from that spot for 2-4 weeks. Polanco should be great. But he’ll likely have some growing pains.

    Bucs are still missing scoring opportunities. Yes, they’ve put a lot of guys on base. But they’re still stranding too many. Situational hititng – especially from Cutch and Pedro – needs to improve.

    Thank God Mercer is finding his stroke.

    IMO, Marte could (and should) be sent down when Polanco arrives. He has earned his place in Clint’s doghouse with his general lacksadaisical play and brain cramps. I’m not going to get into rumors that he’s become a diva in the locker room, except to say where there’s smoke there’s fire. And I trust Hurdle to make sure Marte doesn’t negatively impact this team. Marte could use some humbling.

    All that aside, I look forward to a sweep and a series win vs. Brewers – and Polanco arriving at PNC on Monday!

    • Travis Persinger

      Yes…let’s send down Marte and leave Snider on the 25 man roster. Obviously he’s not “hurting” the locker room with any kind of results or the play on the field for the PBC since May wouldn’t be what it is if we had any true impact on the locker room. I mean, come on, it’s like a middle school rumor trying to stir something up that is just not really a big deal.

      • pilbobuggins

        My feeling is that snider will be traded or dfaed to make room for polanco, I to have wondered if martes money has gone to his head among other things.

      • bucsws2014

        Who said anything about leaving Snider on the 25 man? I didn’t.

        Clint might though for the mere fact he’s a LH bat. And he’s doing a decent job off the bench.

        Let me ask you this: in four years have you ever heard Hurdle come down on a regular the way he’s done this week with Marte?

        I’ll answer that for you: NO.

        When one of the most affable, positive managers in MLB history threatens to bench you, odds are you’re doing a lot more wrong than just not putting up numbers. You’d have to be actually hurting the team in other ways because your teammates would be pulling for you to break out (a la Mercer).

        I trust Hurdle on this. If he thinks he can sit Marte in the dugout and still win, I’m all in. And if they think Indy is in his future, I’m all in on that too.

        As for the longer term, whatever Hurdle does he should do it swiftly and meaningfully before Marte turns into another Tabata.

    • Lukas Sutton

      Funny how fans will lend credence to any rumor about a guy who is struggling but when a guy is playing well we totally ignore any random writer making stuff up. If Marte was hitting .280 no one would say anything about clubhouse issues because they dont exist, and if they do they deserve to stay in the locker room. To say we should keep Snider and demote Marte is awful. Bench him, send the message that way. But if Harrison starts to struggle we have no choice but to play Marte.

  • sammykhalifa

    Never been one of the “need to call up Polanco” people. But I have tickets for Friday, so we “need” to call him up then. :D

    • bucsws2014

      I voted you down because I have tickets for Monday :-)

  • Pigskin

    Mercer seeing the ball better is certainly more important than the countdown to when Josh Harrison runs out of magic dust, I just hope Hurdle has the better judgement to bench him after an 0 for 8 stretch rather than an 0 for 24 one.

    • moose7195

      Why can’t it be Mercer running on magic dust and Harrison seeing the ball better? Harrison has always been a fair hitter when getting consistent reps, and Mercer has never been consistent with the stick.

      • Pigskin

        Harrison has finally reached his ceiling of being a useful utility player. We have no other options at SS so Mercer needs to step up and continue to play well.

        • moose7195

          Unless of course Harrison can get by at SS. And if a 300 average and fair HR numbers are the ceiling of a utility player, then we may need to reconsider who our starters are

          • Lukas Sutton

            Anyone who thinks harrison can “get by” on defense at SS is ignoring his entire career worth of proof that teams agree he is not near a good enough athlete to handle that. They had him playing a ton of 2B in college and in the minors. Harrison is a great guy to have as a utility man, but stop calling him a .300 hitter based on this great start to the year. It means we care more about 2 great months than his stats from the minors and from his previous MLB experience. Let him play until he gets cold and lets not crown him future superstar. Defense at SS is kind of important

            • moose7195

              No one crowned him anything. Even if he drops down to about 270, he is still hitting better than most of the players on this team. That doesn’t make him a superstar, but that shouldn’t relegate him to the bench either, unless other more talented players step up. And clearly the Pirates are ignoring what you and the other 29 teams think about his athleticism as they have given him time at SS each of the last 3 years. That’s why I’m saying that they should see if he can get by. He’s made some impressively athletic plays in the outfield, also not his regular position, maybe SS isn’t that big of a stretch. And IF he can get by, and IF he is still hitting pretty well, don’t you at least have to give it a try? He’s been a sparkplug for this team, he can’t do that from the bench.

  • Lee Young
    • jaygray007

      the beautiful thing about Marte is that he’s such a good defender that any hitting he does is really just icing on the cake.

      stardom isnt so likely anymore, but he should still be overall excellent.

    • piraddict

      The article is unnecessarily pessimistic based on a small sample size of the last two months. Marte’s high BABIP is related mostly to his speed and infield hits. That isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. His problems are primarily related to trying to be patient and increase his walk rate and OBP, as a lead off hitter should. He is now over thinking his at bats and his mind is messed up. He needs to revert to his natural “see the ball, hit the ball” mode and then his career history through the minors says he will be fine. It is also important to remember he is a center fielder playing in left, whose primary contribution is defense. The only reason he is in LF is that Cutch is the incumbent in CF. From the point of view of hitting if you thought of Cutch as the LF and Marte as the CF nobody would be as concerned about Marte’s offensive performance. Think Omar Moreno. Marte will slowly heal from the damage done by Hurdle by batting him at leadoff, and by the end of the season he’ll be batting at a .280/.320/.460/.780 clip which will be fine for a #5 hitter. Just relax and watch it happen.

      • gregenstein

        Oh please. Marte was no more harmed by batting leadoff than Pedro was by batting 4th. Yes, he’s going to have a high BABIP due to his speed. But, he strikes out WAAAAYYYY too much for someone without a lot of power.

        Alvarez gets skewered in some places for his strikeouts, and yet Marte is far worse at it.

        If he could maintain a .780 OPS that would be awesome but realistically I’d be surprised if he keeps it much above .700 unless he figures out how to make more contact.

        • piraddict

          Clearly you don’t think that player’s mental states affect their physical performance. I disagree. I think mental state and physical performance are intimately connected. Actually hitting a baseball involves different parts of the brain than the parts that are involved with thinking about the right approach. A player that is thinking about anything other than seeing and hitting a ball in the strike zone is going to have a lower performance. So when a coach tells a player to take a few pitches to try to work a walk, executing that is more difficult for some players than others. So yes Marte was hurt by trying to become something he is not, a patient leadoff hitter. On the other hand Marte doesn’t have a good command of the strike zone. Early in the season he was swinging at balls above the zone. Now he is swinging at sliders low and away. He needs to improve on that. And yes, I expect Pedro put more pressure on himself in the 4th hole leading to poorer performance.

    • piraddict

      The article is unnecessarily pessimistic based on a small sample size of the last two months. Marte’s high BABIP is related mostly to his speed and infield hits. That isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. His problems are primarily related to trying to be patient and increase his walk rate and OBP, as a lead off hitter should. He is now over thinking his at bats and his mind is messed up. He needs to revert to his natural “see the ball, hit the ball” mode and then his career history through the minors says he will be fine. It is also important to remember he is a center fielder playing in left, whose primary contribution is defense. The only reason he is in LF is that Cutch is the incumbent in CF. From the point of view of hitting if you thought of Cutch as the LF and Marte as the CF nobody would be as concerned about Marte’s offensive performance. Think Omar Moreno. Marte will slowly heal from the damage done by Hurdle by batting him at leadoff, and by the end of the season he’ll be batting at a .280/.320/.460/.780 clip which will be fine for a #5 hitter. Just relax and watch it happen.

    • Andrew

      That article is not as SABER as it claims. 1) Parsing down a sample and saying that this smaller sample is a more correct indication of talent level is inane and making claims about BABIP on 137 balls in play is just unsound. 2)There is little
      value
      in historical comparisons of BABIPs and strikeout rates, when including time periods when league wide BABIP was below .290, any time before 1993, around .280, 1950-78, and when strikeout rates were significantly lower. League wide strike out rate was never above 16% until 1994.

      Based on Marte’s batted ball distribution these are Marte’s xBABIPs and (actual BABIPs)

      2012-2013: .354 (.356)

      2014: .367 (.324)

      That is far from still being lucky, he has hit as many line drives as fly balls this season. Marte has a league average line drive rates, does not hit many fly balls, and rarely hits infield flies; combine that with speed and it will mean infield hits, which all adds up to a higher than average BABIP.

      Yes outliers regress, but this article is regressing Marte’s BABIP too heavily. Furthermore an outfielder that provides elite defense and elite base running with league average hitting ability is extremely valuable. SaberBucs is far from thorough and reaches a very questionable conclusion.

      • bucsws2014

        So we’re good with batting Marte 8th once Mercer’s bat is fully back in play, right?

        • Andrew

          Why would you want someone who has been a below league average hitter in his career, Mercer, batting in front of someone you has been above league average?

          • bucsws2014

            Simple – I believe Mercer can get back to his 2013 performance. I don’t believe Marte can, without retooling his entire approach. I don’t buy into Marte being in a slump. There are major fundamental problems in his batting approach. But he can still bunt and run and pop an occasional mistake pitch in the seats.

  • Pigskin

    Is Snider going to get DFA’d? He is a good LH bat off the bench, I’d prefer we cut ties with Tabata but no way the organization is just going to eat Wandy’s salary AND Tabata’s this year. #cheap

    • jaygray007

      dude calm down. youre just forcing the #cheap thing now.

    • Stephen Stasa

      First of all, you might be interested in this: http://www.piratesprospects.com/2014/06/first-pitch-getting-value-from-the-upcoming-roster-moves.html

      Second, Tabata is the better hitter and more versatile player with almost no career splits between LHP and RHP (.734 to .712 OPSs) so I wouldn’t decide which to keep based on lefty vs righty. In fact, Tabata’s career .712 OPS against righties is still better than Snider’s career against righties (.705). Plus, you’d be replacing whoever is the odd man out is with a lefty, so you’re not changing your team’s balance either. Keeping Tabata is the right move regardless of the money situation.

    • smurph

      I am also tired of the “cheap” talk. Spending money for overpaid, marginal veterans is NOT the way to go. Getting longterm contracts with your young, budding stars IS. Unlikely to sign Pedro, though I am sure they will try. Otherwise, they should be looking to lockup guys like Cole, Polanco, and Walker longterm. Trust me. The payroll will go up once they start locking up all these guys, not to mention escalations in salary for McCutchen and Marte over the next couple of years.

      • Pigskin

        First off please take into consideration that spending money got us over the hump last year to make the playoffs. Spending MONEY to sign guys like Burnett (although via trade we still had to pay more than we normally would pay a SP), Liriano, Martin, and Grilli. Without signing those guys the homegrown talent would not have been enough to get us into the post season (see 2012).

    • smurph

      Snider is not a good bat off the bench. 2014 .207 Avg, .608 OPS. Career .238 Avg. .693 OPS. He stinks. He is not a major league player.

  • JayBird

    The issue I have with starting pitching is while better… they still need to work past the 6th inning occasionally. Still not sure why Clint pulled Volquez pitching well against the Dodgers the other night after just 77 pitches. But other guys are going around 100 by the 6th. The good news is, they’re aware of that and talk about pitching “efficiently”. I think it’s going to come around, but something that I think is a point neglected in an otherwise thorough article.

    Glad to see Pedro hitting. He’s getting RBI with hits up the middle… and that’s encouraging.
    I see no reason right now to move J-Hay out of the leadoff spot. Look… he’s a guy who has improved his all-around game since first getting that call-up 3 or 4 years ago. While it’s hard to see him staying as hot as he is… I think he’s developing into a good bat that is hard to get out of the line-up. He’s a tough out that has energized the top of that order. Platooning with Pedro — along with getting some other spot starts at SS & LF — is a good idea.
    I agree with Clint that Jordy Mercer is more a player we saw the 2nd half of last year than he has been through April and May of this year. He’s started to show that on this road trip. If that continues… then we have another pleasant problem of where to get J-Hay some starts.

    Finally, anyone got a vibe on Cumpton’s next start. He’s up Friday night for the start against the Brewers and Kyle Lohse (who, for some reason, the Pirates make look like Cy Young everytime we play him lol). Did not see him at Dodger Stadium last weekend, but is there a feeling he might have lost something a bit — someone figured him out — or was it just “one of those starts”?

    • piraddict

      Cumpton is a pitch to contact pitcher who will always need to have good defense behind him and always need to miss the center of percussion of the bats. He was unlucky early, but then lost his command and elevated some pitches in the heart of the strike zone which were driven for home runs, which they should have been as this is the Major Leagues. Hopefully he’ll learn from this and stay aggressive on the edges of the zone in his next start. Also, I didn’t think the catcher (I think it was Stewart) called a particularly good game.

      • JayBird

        Thanks. Didn’t see him pitch. I like him, though. Seems to pitch with an attitude, and I like those types of guys. His competitive spirit has gotten him this far… from being pretty much a buried prospect.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

      When Watson, Melancon and Grilli are pitching lights-out like right now, there’s no need to stretch the starter past the 6th inning. Give him some rest and lock down the win if you have a lead.

      • JayBird

        Hmmmm…. not quite conventional wisdom. And few teams have the luxury the Bucs do of being able to roll out a list of different relievers to give guys who pitched the night before a rest. However, once the Bucs get a double-header or an extra-inning game — that apple cart gets upset. It’s early June, indeed… and, especially with Clint, a lot of managers don’t like their pitchers to start going the distance until July. But last season, that bullpen — even with all those guys they roll out — started to get a little bit tired… especially Melancon.

        But it has been nice with Watson — and don’t forget Wilson — pitching great. LH relievers with a combined ERA under 2. It’s been really nice to see Hughes back to form, too. So… you could be right. The bullpen may even be deeper than the good depth it had last season.

        • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

          Right now the BP looks good. April was horrendous if I recall – or was that early May – or both? Might as well ride it for some wins while things are clicking.

      • bucsws2014

        And what do you do when any of those three need a blow?

    • bucsws2014

      Lohse is pretty good against most everyone, not just the Bucs. He’s already got 3 or 4 of the top 50 games pitched this year, behind only Wainwright and Cueto on that count.

      • stickyweb

        Yup, and he’s pitched against the bucs 3 or 4 times. Coincidence? I think not.

        • bucsws2014

          Only one of Lohse’s top performances was vs. Bucs, although there are 2 Cueto and 1 Wainwright gems vs. Bucs on that top 50 list.

  • https://profiles.google.com/117072260031604417798 PikeBishop65

    They have the chance to do some serious damage in June. After the Brewers they have seven against the Cubs, four against the Mets, not to mention three with the soon to be dead in the water Rays, three home against the Reds and three away against the Fish. Not excatly the Tigers, the Giants and the As.
    Since May 2, they have played exactly .600 ball (18-12). No reason to think they can’t continue that streak against those opponents. And for the record, playing .600 ball for the rest of the season would give them 90 wins.

    • lonleylibertarian

      Well the Mets and the Fish are actually playing pretty well-ahead of the Bucs – and 90 wins is possible – but will probably come a couple of wins short of playoffs…

      • smurph

        The Reds got in last year with 90 wins, and the next closest teams had 86 & 81. With less separation between the teams in the top half of the league, 90 wins is almost guaranteed a spot. I say someone will get in with 88 or 89 wins this year in the NL

        • lonleylibertarian

          We shall see how this plays out – the Dodgers scuffled last year for the first 60 games or so and finished strong [65-27] – which shows is can be done – but the Dodgers arguably had/have a better pitching staff to do it with than the Bucs.

          With the way the Giants are playing I still think the odds are against two Central teams getting the wild cards. So the Bucs challenge likely is getting to second place in their division – or winning it. They can take a big step in making that happen this weekend.

      • smurph

        The Dodgers have the 5th best record. Their winning % of .517 would end up being 84-78. Obviously, as Tim said, a couple of teams will pull away from the bunched up group.

      • smurph

        Mets have the same record as the Pirates. Marlins are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Pirates, but they have only played 25 of their first 58 games on the road, and they have the worst road record in the major leagues.

    • piratemike

      You have too much time on tour hands. I’m sure that fans on these teams look at the schedule and see the Pirates as a beatable team because they are not the Tigers, Giants and A’s.

  • Stephen Stasa

    Since May 3, Mercer is batting .293/.318/.451/.769. Not sure why everybody wants to replace him with Harrison so bad. Sure, as long as he (Harrison) stays hot, I’d give him a few starts there, a few at 3B (against lefties), some in the OF (when guys need a day off). Hell, can he catch? How’s his sinker? But that’s all based on one good month from Harrison when Mercer has had a pretty good month of his own without being a liability in the field at the position.

    • pilbobuggins

      I agree about mercer, he has had a full time job for 2months now, ya gotta give the kid a chance to settle in( looks to me like he is getting there) if by the end of the year he looks pedroesque then there’s a problem.

  • piraddict

    Amen to your comments about Marte. Hopefully Hurdle woke up to the fact that trying to conform Marte to a leadoff hitter’s role was hurting him badly and will keep him in either #5 or #7 until he recovers who he is. I see him as a great #5 in the future.

    • https://profiles.google.com/117072260031604417798 PikeBishop65

      Marte in the five, Walker in the sixth and Pedro seventh would be like a reboot of the top of the order. Would love to see that succeed.

      • piraddict

        That implies either Mercer or Martin in #2 hole. Which would you choose?

        • JayBird

          Remember one of the ESPN guys the other night in the Dodgers game mentioning moving Cutch to 2nd when Polanco is called up and leading off. It implies he’ll see more pitches to hit. Not sure I buy that… but would love to see who would be the #3 if Clint somehow works that mindset. I forgot which team was used as an example of having their best hitter in that spot behind a strong lead-off man.

          • smurph

            Against righties, I would go Polanco, Walker, Cutch, Ike, Martin, Pedro, Marte/JHey, Mercer.
            Against lefties, JHey, Polanco, Cutch, Sanchez, Martin, Walker/Pedro, Marte, Mercer/Barmes.
            That is based on how they are currently hitting. One thing I like about Hurdle, he moves players up or down in the lineup, based on how they have been the last few games. If you’re hot, he moves you up.

          • pilbobuggins

            Reds,vottto. Would be my guess,although I did not hear that part.

      • bucsws2014

        Marte doesn’t profile as a #5 at all. More like a 7 or 8. And I’d put him at 8 to use his speed before top of the lineup comes up again.

  • lonleylibertarian

    It is always fascinating to see what a few wins do to the tone of this site…

    1, This Pirate team is the same one that looked pretty bad at Citi Bank Field less than two weeks ago – Volquez giving up 5 walks and two wild pitches – then Colon making them look pretty impotent.

    2. Anyone notice that the “great deal Neal” 1st base savior is scuffling a bit – OPS the last two weeks at .649 WITH a HR in the mix…

    3. The Marte implosion has been pretty amazing – he has an even lower OPS – .371 over the same two weeks. The good news is that this will solve the Jay Hay problem short term – move him to Left Field and ride him as long as he is hot. The challenge will be defensively at PNC – a better OF config would probably have Polanco in Left there.

    4. A nice six game stretch – but the team is still 2 games under .500 and does not have a real number 1 starter…

    • smurph

      1. Same team, but the overall pitching has improved dramatically, agreed? Looks a lot like the team that won 94 games last season.
      2. Short term stats – mostly irrelevant. Andrew McCutchen is batting .181 in his last 6 games. Let’s get rid of that bum. With the Pirates, Davis is batting .280 with an OPS over .800. I’ll take that.
      3. It seems to make you happy when one of the players struggles in a significant slump. Why is that?
      4. Only legitimate point you have made. However, I would call it a nice 14 gme stretch (10-4).

      • lonleylibertarian

        Not sure we are watching the same team…
        1. Overall pitching – might be better than it was – but is still a bit shaky – Cole needs to work into the 7th/8th – I actually have hope for a better Liriano the rest of the way and Morton solving his bad inning problems. I don’t think this staff is even close to the one that one 94 games – but I will concede it might be good enough to get to 88-90…

        2. I just wanted to point out that Davis is still a work in progress – the changes the Bucs made in his swing and stance may work out – but he is not a solution – yet – might be down the road – but not yet.

        3. I am actually a Marte fan – thought he was being misused in leadoff spot – but something is going on with him – not sure what it is. He is still very young – and hopefully can get this figured out. His speed and defense – when he not having brain farts – are very valuable – probably can get away with the strikeouts and batting .250 if he can get his head on straight.

        4. I think the 1-2 trip to Citi Field was worrisome – and had me wondering if they had moved beyond the horrible start – so yes they had a nice home stand before going to New York – and yes I would have actually been happy with a split in LA and winning 2-3 in SD – so things are better

        But they have to get to 10 above .500 before I will turn on my optimism mode – getting to 2nd in the division would help also…

        • smurph

          Last 13 games, Pirate pitchers have given up 3 runs or less in nine of those games. And the Pirates have won all nine if those games. I rest my point.

        • stickyweb

          10 games over .500, eh? So right now you’ d only be confident in 4 teams, MIL, SF, OAK & TOR. ok then. I’d say a few more teams have reason for optimism, including the Pirates.

      • pilbobuggins

        I see the biggest difference, besides better pitching, is better fundamental baseball I.e. making contact and not just swinging for the fences in rbi situations,making the routine plays they should make without an adventure (for the most part)ect… in short they are playing solid fundamental baseball with purpose and not bad news bears baseball badly.

    • leadoff

      Much like a few losses. Pointing out Pirate problems is something we can get anytime, just turn the radio or TV on. The media loves to remind us of how bad the Pirates are, how lucky they are, how cheap they are and when to jump from the Clemente bridge. Points 1-4 are what is known as ups and downs of baseball, nothing more.

    • Andrew

      There is a rich irony in accusing sports fans of being fickle and results based, which we are, then citing two week OPS numbers.

  • leadoff

    I did not think the Pirates were going to have a problem contending before and I don’t think so now. I have said this many times, depth will win in the end, the Pirates have more than any of the other contenders in the NL Central.
    As far as Marte is concerned I am very unhappy with Hurdle, I do not like the idea of making Marte his public whipping boy, IMO, the coaching staff messed him up, but in any case you do not single out a player like he is doing with Marte. He never does it with McCutchen and he has had a few bone headed plays like most players. It would appear to me that the more Hurdle messes with Marte the worse he is getting, he did the same thing with Sanchez when he was here, very reluctant to give him any credit when he did something good, but not very quick to defend him for anything. Hurdle is a veterans manager and not a very good inexperienced player manager.

  • pilbobuggins

    If somebody has already said this I apologize, it still looks to me like marte is standing off the plate more than last year,thus he is swinging thru balls he hit last year,anyone else notice he has not had as many hbp as he did last year, my conclusion is this is being done by the coaches to keep him from being hurt. I also predicted 18-8 for june,before you laugh keep in mind the pirates have a soft schedule this month with the tough teams at pnc.

    • leadoff

      They know all they have to do is throw him a breaking ball down and away and he probably will swing at it especially if he has 2 strikes, no real need to pitch him inside, of course there are some guys that pitch inside as a way of life no matter what the book is on Marte. Marte’s solution is so easy, yet for him so hard, make the pitcher bring his pitches up, this is a mind game that Marte must adjust to and only he can do it.

      • pilbobuggins

        Those are the pitches I’m talking about, he was hitting those last year now they are an automatic strike.

        • Lukas Sutton

          Revisionist history. He wasnt hitting any ball 2 feet outside and in the dirt, teams just threw him more balls inside and more stuff over the plate. Always takes pitchers some time to get a read on a player and fully understand his approach. This year Marte is known for what he was then, a guy with a problem with discipline at the plate. He hasnt changed, the stuff he is seeing has. Which is why many said keeping him in AAA to develop on that issue might have been good. Marte will never be a .300 hitter without changes, but he isnt a .240 hitter either. He can hit .260 and bring huge value thanks to his defense and speed.