It has been fun this year to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates hit the ball over the fence at a pace that we have not seen in a very long time.
The 138 homers the Bucs have hit to date is the third-best mark in the National League and has crushed the total of 107 home runs the Bucs hit as a team a season. With Andrew McCutchen (24), Pedro Alvarez (23) and Garrett Jones (21), the Bucs are the only National League team with three players that have hit 20 or more homers to this point in the season.
But while it’s nice to see the ball fly over the fence at the rate it is, it’s what the Pirates do with men on base that may determine whether or not this is a playoff team or not.
Twenty games in a row is a very long stretch this late in the season. Throw a 19-inning game in there and the Bucs had the look of a tired team in San Diego, but the numbers with runners in scoring position is alarming.
Looking at the last three series, the Bucs simply aren’t getting the job done when they’ve had opportunities and that has cost them some games.
Dating back to the Dodgers series in which the Pirates went 7-for-28 with RISP, things have been getting considerably worse. In a three-game set against the Cardinals, they went 5-for 31 and in the most recent sweep at the hands of the Padres, they went a futile 4-for-25.
Add all that up and the Pirates have gone a mere 16-for-84 (.190) in their past 10 games, a span in which they’ve gone only 3-7.
On the season, only Andrew McCutchen (.340), Starling Marte (.333), Neil Walker (.311) and Garrett Jones (.300) are hitting well with RISP and no other Pirates player is hitting above .244 in those situations.
It’s been a problem all season as the Bucs rank only 13th in the National League with a .237 average with RISP and have hit only .222 with RISP and two-outs.
The facts are the Bucs are a young team and it’s natural for a lot of these guys to press and practically none of them have been in this situation before: feeling the pressure of trying to not only make the postseason but put an end to a 19-year losing streak.
For that to happen, it may be as simple as a couple guys stepping up and delivering some big hits with guys on base.
McCutchen is a big part of that. He’s been pressing at the plate as of late and he’s going to have to come through more often than not the rest of the way. One can only hope that the day off on Thursday is exactly what Cutch and company need to get back to what made them a dangerous team throughout June and July.
It’s nice to rely on the long ball and even nicer knowing that you have a few guys that can hit the ball over the fence with some consistency. But good teams take advantage of opportunities and if the Bucs want to be considered a good team that’s playoff worthy, they must start coming through more often with ducks on the pond.
They have the talent to do so. Now it’s just a matter of getting the job done.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but a couple hits here and there with runners on base could turn out to be the difference between the Pirates playing their first postseason game in 20 years or simply watching the playoffs from home.