The Pittsburgh Pirates face the Miami Marlins as they continue their series in South Beach.
The Pirates have surged out of the gate offensively in 2016. They rank towards the top in batting average, OBP, slugging and runs scored in the majors. A lot of this is thanks to hot starts by Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and John Jaso, but a group that deserves some of the credit is the Pirates bench.
Not many teams in baseball can sit part of their starting core and not skip a beat. That has been the case for the Pirates this year. Last night’s 10-0 win Miami was an example. David Freese went 4-5 with 2 RBI while Sean Rodriguez blasted a 2 run homer in the top of the ninth.
Freese was a regular in the lineup to begin the year with Jung Ho Kang out. Now with Kang back, the former World Series has settled into his platoon role at third and at first with Jaso. Sean Rod already has more home runs (6) than he did all of last season when he hit only 4. His hot bat has cooled off a bit, but the super utility man is still hitting .286 in 91 at bats.
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Former all-star Matt Joyce’s impact cannot be ignored either. Joyce has come up big as a pinch hitter, hitting .286 and smashing 3 of his 5 home runs. He has also filled in nicely as an outfielder when needed.
Grizzled veteran Chris Stewart continues to be a reliable backup catcher for the Pirates. Though his .214 average is lowest on the team, he has thrown out 33% of runners, a higher percentage than Francisco Cervelli. Cole Figueroa has been used sparingly since being called up from AAA, but has shown flashes of being able to produce when called upon.
As the dog days of summer approach, this deep, versatile bench will be the key for the Pirates hanging around in the national league central race. Even if injuries occur to the starting lineup, the bench guys will step up and the offense will continue to roll.