As the Pittsburgh Pirates march into early August with a 59-53 record, the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals have realized that the Pirates aren’t going to fade and will battle for a second consecutive postseason bid. The Pirates are currently 2 1/2 games back of the NL Central-leading Brewers, and only 1 1/2 behind the Cardinals for a wildcard spot.
So how could the Pirates make another run into the postseason? I’ve come up with three keys that we should pay attention to as the Pirates proceed down the stretch.
1. The Pirates will need Pedro Alvarez to step up.
We are well aware of Pedro’s throwing errors at third base, as well as his struggles at the plate. He is currently batting .234 with 15 home runs (third on the team) and 49 RBIs (third on the team).
Though Pedro has been struggling mightily in the field, I believe there is no excuse not to have him in the starting lineup because he may break out of his slump at any time. Benching Pedro will not help the Pirates, nor give him any confidence.
We witnessed his power last season, as he could single-handedly carry the Pirates at times. The throwing errors are almost certainly mental, and I see no reason as to why the Pirates couldn’t try Pedro at first base immediately. Alvarez is a professional baseball player, so I am not going to buy the “position-transition” excuse.
Why not give Pedro a chance at first base? He wouldn’t have to make as many throws. His fielding was never really a problem. All-Star utilityman Josh Harrison has been red-hot, and this move would allow Harrison to play third base every day. The Pirates will need his bat down the stretch in order to secure a postseason bid.
When these two pitchers are healthy, they are a dangerous 1-2 punch. Liriano has improved in recent games, as his slider has become a serious weapon again.
There is no need to rush Cole back to the rotation, but the 100-mph hurler, when healthy, could only help improve the Pirates postseason chances. He could bring some fire and emotion into the Pirates starting rotation.
3. The Pirates should work the waiver-wire like last season.
The Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau additions added a spark to the Pirates, providing more bats to the middle of the lineup. It also ignited the fanbase as people began to believe that management wanted to win. I had earlier written that the Pirates made a mistake by not attempting to re-sign Morneau, and I still believe that he could have really helped Pittsburgh.
Byrd signed a pretty expensive deal with the Phillies, so there is no fault in the Pirates there. However, if Pittsburgh could reclaim Byrd for a prospect or two and have the Phillies pay a portion of the deal, I would be a fan of the move. Maybe the “Byrd man” could play first or third base? I’d definitely welcome his 21 homers and 63 RBI back to Pittsburgh.
If I were general manager, my ideal Pirates lineup would be 1) LF Starling Marte, 2) RF Gregory Polanco, 3) CF Andrew McCutchen, 4) 3B Marlon Byrd, 5) SS Josh Harrison, 6) 1B Pedro Alvarez, 7) 2B Neil Walker, 8) C Russell Martin.
If the Pirates couldn’t get Byrd, I’d suggest a lineup of 1) LF Starling Marte, 2) RF Gregory Polanco, 3) CF Andrew McCutchen, 4) 3B Josh Harrison, 5) 2B Neil Walker, 6) 1B Pedro Alvarez, 7) C Russell Martin, 8) SS Jordy Mercer.
Regardless, isn’t it exciting to have relevant, meaningful baseball games in August?