The Pittsburgh Pirates begin a 31 day straight stretch of games beginning Monday in their makeup game versus the Colorado Rockies.
With the Pirates reaching the quarter pole of the regular season, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from this group so far on the young season. Currently they sit in second place at 23-19, 6.5 back of the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs.
Unlike previous years, the Pirates offense has carried the club through much of this season. Many questioned how the team would do in their new offensive approach coming out of Spring Training. They have responded by leading the National League in batting average and on-base percentage.
It’s start at the top of the order with John Jaso, who’s hitting .307 with a .373 OBP. Those stats are not surprising, but his play at first base has been. Jaso set out at the beginning of Spring Training to learn everything he could at the position. One error through 33 games at first is quite impressive for a guy with only two career starts before this season at the position.
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When you talk about impressive starts to 2016, Gregory Polanco has begun to turn the corner it seems. He leads the team in RBI, OBP, slugging and walks and has settled in nicely batting third. Though Andrew McCutchen could be put back in that slot if he continues to struggle batting second, Polanco should continue to rack wherever Clint Hurdle bats him in the lineup.
The offense has had to carry the team with the inconsistency of the pitching staff, both with the starters and the bullpen. After being one of the best staffs in baseball over the past few seasons, the staff ERA has ballooned to 4.28, 21st in the majors. The rotation has looked sharped over the past few games with Jeff Locke, Gerrit Cole and Jon Niese pitching into the seventh. Francisco Liriano has been up and down while Juan Nicasio is a couple bad starts away from being shipped to the bullpen.
From the bullpen’s perspective, it has been a roller coaster ride for the shark tank. Though Mark Melancon blew a save Saturday, he has looked solid this season. Tony Watson has been terrific as well even with this ERA above two. You can’t expect a pitcher to have a sub-2.00 ERA in three straight seasons.
The problem has been with the middle relief. Arquimedes Caminero looked like a future step up/closer in his first year with the Pirate. This season he has fallen back to Earth hard, struggling with his control while posting an awful 5.74 ERA. Ryan Vogelsong does not look comfortable as a long reliever. Neftali Feliz shook off a so-so while Jared Hughes has been a breath of fresh air since coming off the disabled list.
Even with their faults, the Pirates are in a better position now than they were in 2016 at this time. If the pitching staff shakes off their slow start and the offense continues to trend upwards, it is still possible for them to challenge the Cubs for the division crown.