As July wraps up and the All-Star break has come and gone, the Pittsburgh Pirates are firing on all cylinders after starting the season a little slow. Two games into the second half and the Bucs are 53-37, 4.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and first in line for a Wild Card spot. It’s been a few months since we began this journey and on the Banished to the Pen Podcast I made a bold prediction about the Pirates topping the Cardinals this season – which I of course later dug in on. That so far hasn’t come true, but that’s beside the point. The Pirates have become perennial contenders just a few years after it looked like the rebuilding process wasn’t going to yield results but fall just short for a bit longer.
Andrew McCutchen slumped in April hitting just .194/.302/.333 over his first 21 games of the season. But from May 1 on – even though the true rebound started a few days later – his OPS has been .936 as the Pirates superstar slugged 10 homers and 22 doubles. Even with the slow start he leads all Pirates regulars in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, and each of the three triple slash categories.
Francisco Cervelli has taken advantage of his shot at a full-time job and has played nearly as well in 70 games as in 49 last season. Facing a larger spectrum of pitchers and playing more often he’s still hitting .289/.361/.393 with four home runs – tying his career high. As the second catcher the Pirates have added to their roster after a stint with the Yankees it’s almost too bad we probably won’t get a chance to see Brian McCann take a tour of Pittsburgh in two years when Cervelli is a free agent.
Josh Harrison stumbled to a .279/.313/.384 line in 2015 before hitting the DL with a thumb injury but Jung Ho Kang has played his role this year bouncing between third base and shortstop while compiling a .271/.354/.397 line through the season’s first half-and-a-couple-games.
On pace for a 30-30 season, Starling Marte actually leads the Pirates with 13 homers and is tied (with Gregory Polanco) for the lead with 17 stolen bases. While Martes, still just 26, isn’t McCutchen with the bat – .279/.329/.455 – he’s still developing into another homegrown star. Speaking of Polanco, he’s been a disappointment in 2015 but not someone who needs more seasoning in the minors, just a chance to make major league adjustments. Three homers and 17 steals to go along with a .240/.316/.341 slash line just isn’t indicative of his talent. While Mike Trout has set unrealistic expectations for young players, Polanco is still only 23.
Corey Hart (.597 OPS) remains a shell of his former self while providing just a hair more offense than Sean Rodriguez (.575 OPS, who no one would claim is there for his bat.
Jordy Mercer was injured Sunday leaving the Pirates very thin in the infield with Harrison already down. While the team has been linked to Justin Upton as of late, their July shopping list may include an infielder now.
As everyone expected, A.J. Burnett returned to the Pirates to be the ace of the staff, leading starters in innings pitched (119.1) and ERA (2.11). Well, maybe not, but he sure bounced back after his rough 4.59 ERA stint with the Phillies.
Gerrit Cole has been everything Pirates fans could have hoped for. His 2.30 ERA is second to Burnett’s and his 4.14 K/BB ratio leads the rotation. Francisco Liriano leads the staff in strikeouts with 125 over his 114.2 innings.
Mark Melancon is as reliable as ever in the ninth inning and got to meet Brock Holt for the first time as All-Stars several years after the two were on opposite ends of the same trade.
In the best names category, the Pirates have added Arquimedes Caminero to the bullpen.
Am I the only one who sings the Canyonero song with Caminero substituted in every time Arquimedes Caminero pitches?
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) June 29, 2015
Jack Sparrow isn’t walking through that door (just in case I don’t do the Pirates season in review, had to make one mention of him in the first two tries), but Justin Upton might be. Who knows, maybe with the infield shortage there could be a reunion with Aramis Ramirez? Maybe Ben Zobrist? He’d fit their needs nicely. Either way the prediction stands: the Pirates will finish the season ahead of the Cardinals.Next post: Checking in with the Astros
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