There are obviously a lot of things working well for the Pirates over the last two weeks. You don’t win nine in a row and 11 of 12 games without pretty much everything going right. But when we compare the last few weeks to the up and down season the rest of the year, we can see what they really need to compete.
They don’t need everything going right all the time. Sure, it helps right now to make up ground from when everything was going wrong and they were losing so much. But the Pirates can get by with a few people struggling, as long as the following still happens.
The Offense Isn’t a Two Man Show
I wrote earlier in the week about how only half of the starters were living up to expectations this season. The Pirates have seen season-long struggles from Josh Bell, plus inconsistent performances from Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco, and replacement level play from Colin Moran.
Of the four starters who are living up to or exceeding projections you have Francisco Cervelli, who is currently injured, and Jordy Mercer, whose projections aren’t going to lead a lineup.
That leaves Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson as the guys who have been leading this offense for most of the season. And when everything was going wrong, that included those two struggling, which led to some bad offensive outcomes.
The Pirates are clicking when they have a few more guys contributing, and I know that’s not a ground breaking statement. In the last two weeks, they’ve seen Josh Bell step up as the top offensive option by wOBA and wRC+ standards. They’ve seen Gregory Polanco ranking fourth behind Dickerson and Marte in those categories. And they’ve seen Colin Moran be more than a replacement level guy.
The Pirates have a dangerous lineup when everything is clicking. The problem is that Polanco has been inconsistent, Moran is just adjusting to the majors, and Bell is in his second full season, and hopefully is just starting to adjust back to pitchers.
I’m not sure if they can count on more things going right than wrong in the future. It would help to get Cervelli back, although Elias Diaz isn’t doing bad as his replacement. If the Pirates do add, they might need some offensive help, just to counter the inconsistent performances they’ve seen from half the lineup.
A Reliable Bullpen
I could probably spend an entire article breaking down the rotation, and honestly, I’ve spent a lot of words on them already. The Pirates started changing their approach with their starters throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking stuff around the end of May. The results haven’t always been consistent, but the strategy is looking good.
For example, you have Jameson Taillon looking like an ace the last few weeks while throwing his fastball 51.5% of the time, and Nick Kingham looking like a reliable MLB starter with 57% fastball usage. Even Ivan Nova is down to 63.8%, which is high, but not high for him, and that’s matched with solid numbers.
The more encouraging thing lately is that the Pirates have a reliable bullpen emerging. Felipe Vazquez is looking like his old self. Kyle Crick has stepped up as a reliable late inning option. And Edgar Santana has emerged as a dominant reliever, in large part to that breaking ball philosophy that has him throwing his fastball and slider about 50% of the time each.
The Pirates have also seen strong results from Richard Rodriguez, and occasional results from Michael Feliz and Tyler Glasnow.
They could use another bullpen arm, as a lot of the current options are largely untested over a full season. But what we’re seeing right now is encouraging. The Pirates entered the year with one reliable reliever in Vazquez, and even he wasn’t reliable at times. That has changed, with Vazquez getting back on track and a few of the young options stepping up to join him in the late innings. The Pirates will need more of that, since they can’t afford to be blowing any leads.
Help From the Depth Options
One thing that stood out in my recap earlier in the week was that the Pirates really aren’t getting a lot of help from their depth options this year. That’s not universally true, as guys like Richard Rodriguez have stepped up in a big way. But the bench, bullpen, and minor league depth options have under-performed projections overall.
That hasn’t been true in the last few weeks. With Chad Kuhl out, Nick Kingham has stepped up in a big way. When the Pirates needed a spot starter, Clay Holmes emerged with six shutout innings. The bench is seeing some production lately from David Freese, Max Moroff, and Sean Rodriguez in his return, plus Elias Diaz stepping up for Cervelli.
This kind of performance should help to off-set some of the inconsistent performances that should be expected from the offensive starters, and from the young bullpen and rotation. Not to mention, it should help when the Pirates are dealing with injuries down the stretch.
If the Pirates are serious about contending, then they’re going to need help from the outside via trades. But they’ve got some depth options on the inside as well, and if they step up like they’ve done over the last few weeks, then that will give the club a nice boost down the stretch.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates won 9-2 over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates now travel to Cleveland for three games. Trevor Williams will get the start today, coming off of his last outing on July 11th when he threw five shutout innings against the Washington Nationals. The Indians will counter with right-hander Corey Kluber, who has a 2.76 ERA in 133.2 innings, with 132 strikeouts and an 0.91 WHIP. He gave up six runs over 7.1 innings in his last start
The minor league schedule includes a rehab start for Dario Agrazal in Bradenton. He hasn’t pitched since May 24th due to a right shoulder strain. Shane Baz makes his seventh start of the season. He has allowed four earned runs in each of his last three starts. Altoona starter Eduardo Vera has allowed two earned runs in each of his last four starts. West Virginia had their game canceled yesterday so starter Domingo Robles goes today instead. He allowed five earned runs in his last start. It was the first time since May that he gave up more than two earned runs in an outing. The DSL Pirates2 have a doubleheader today. Indianapolis and Morgantown have off.
MLB: Pittsburgh (51-49) @ Indians (54-44) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: Trevor Williams (4.36 ERA, 71:35 SO/BB, 99.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (52-46) vs Rochester (44-53) 7:05 PM 7/24 (season preview)
Probable starter: Brandon Waddell (4.95 ERA, 32:16 SO/BB, 40.0 IP)
AA: Altoona (51-45) @ Akron (60-40) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Eduardo Vera (5.06 ERA, 27:9 SO/BB, 48.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (46-49) @ Tampa (49-50) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Dario Agrazal (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (50-44) @ Kannapolis (53-43) 7:05 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Domingo Robles (3.38 ERA, 79:21 SO/BB, 96.0 IP)
Short-Season A: Morgantown (14-22) vs Aberdeen (13-21) 7:05 PM 7/24 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD (0.00 ERA, 0:0 SO/BB, 0.0 IP)
Rookie: Bristol (13-17) vs Kingsport (16-13) 7:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Shane Baz (5.20 ERA, 29:15 SO/BB, 27.2 IP)
GCL: Pirates (11-14) vs Phillies West 12:00 PM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates1 (20-22) vs Cubs1 10:30 AM (season preview)
DSL: Pirates2 (15-25) vs Tigers2 10:30 AM DH (season preview)
From Altoona on Friday, the fourth hit of the night for Stephen Alemais
7/22: Bralin Jackson placed on Altoona disabled list.
7/21: Christopher Bostick activated from Indianapolis disabled list. Alfredo Reyes assigned to Altoona.
7/20: Sean Rodriguez activated from disabled list. Tanner Anderson optioned to Indianapolis.
7/19: Pirates release Johan De Jesus and Adonis Pichardo.
7/19: Chris Sharpe placed on West Virginia DL. Robbie Glendinning promoted from Morgantown.
7/16: Nick Burdi assigned to Bradenton on rehab.
7/16: Eric Wood placed on disabled list. Alfredo Reyes promoted to Indianapolis.
7/16: Pedro Vasquez placed on disabled list. Luis Escobar promoted to Altoona.
7/16: Jake Brentz activated from Bradenton disabled list.
7/16: Christopher Bostick assigned to GCL on rehab.
7/15: Pirates sign Alexander Mojica
7/15: Austin Meadows optioned to Indianapolis. Pirates recall Tanner Anderson
7/15: Clay Holmes optioned to Indianapolis
7/14: Austin Coley activated from Altoona disabled list.
7/14: Bo Schultz placed on Indianapolis disabled list. Jackson Williams activated from DL.
7/14: Pirates place Francisco Cervelli on DL. Recall Jacob Stallings and Clay Holmes.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus four trades of note. We start with the trades, which I’ll quickly summarize.
2003: The trade that everyone would love to forget happened 15 years ago. The Pirates sent Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton to the Cubs for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez and Matt Bruback. You can check the link if you want to relive this one. At least the Pirates ended up getting Ramirez back for a little bit, so that was fun to see the end of his career.
1999: Four years earlier, the Pirates made another trade that didn’t work out well long-term, though this one was for a team doing well that suddenly had a need. The Pirates sent Jose Guillen and pitcher Jeff Sparks to the Devil Rays, in exchange for Joe Oliver and Humberto Cota. The Pirates had just lost Jason Kendall to a season-ending injury, so the catching depth was necessary. Guillen ended up having a strong career, though it took him about four years to get on track.
1996: Danny Darwin dealt to the Astros for Rich Loiselle. This trade actually worked out well, as Darwin was a veteran signed to a one-year deal, while Loiselle spent five years with the Pirates, occasionally getting used in the closer role.
1986: The final deal worked out the best, as the Pirates sent pitcher Jose DeLeon to the White Sox for Bobby Bonilla. DeLeon was a decent starter after the deal, but Bonilla was a superstar who helped the Pirates reach the playoffs in 1990 and 1991.
As for the players born on this date, Ginger Beaumont was a star center fielder for the 1901-03 Pirates teams that won three straight NL titles. You can read more on Beaumont in this link, which is in addition to the one at the top. He hit .321 for the Pirates in 989 games and scored 757 runs. He has the eighth highest batting average in team history, falling right between Arky Vaughan and Pie Traynor. On a team with Hall of Fame players Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke, Beaumont hit lead-off and led the NL in hits for three straight seasons from 1902 until 1904. He also led the league in average in 1902 and runs scored in 1903.
The other two players born on this date are 1928 second baseman Mack Hillis and 1934 pitcher Ed Holley. If you want to know more about them, check the link at the top of this section.