MLB Playoffs: Five things the Pirates need to do to qualify in 2018

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 01: Francisco Liriano
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 01: Francisco Liriano /

The National League Division Series’ opens in earnest today as the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks look to compete to represent the National League in the World Series.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, see themselves on the outside looking in for two consecutive seasons. This after three straight home games in the Wild Card round the previous three seasons, the first also giving them an NLDS appearance.

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We’re not here to talk about my disdain for the one-game Wild Card, as I absolutely do not like it, but rather what the Pirates need to do to reach the NLDS and beyond in 2018.


The Pirates, specifically management, must commit to playing in October.

Every year when Spring Training begins, every team dreams of playing deep into October. Hope springs eternal.

The front office needs to do everything in their power to field a team that doesn’t just dream it, but accomplishes it.

Over the last two trade deadlines and offseasons the front office has shown no commitment. Whether that is to the current season, the following season or several seasons down the line.

Bob Nutting, Neal Huntington and company need a plan, and they MUST commit to it. Even if that means dealing a couple of prospects for a front line pitcher.

Keep Cutch

Fans of the team believe Andrew McCutchen has played his last game as a member of the Pirates. Count this guy as one of them.

Cutch led the Pirates out of perennial misery and was instrumental in the Pirates reaching October for the first time in 20 years back in 2013.

That was a “Wild Night” in Pittsburgh as Cutch recollected two years ago on the Players Tribune. I still remember that night vividly. The black out, all of the Jolly Rogers, Jason Grilli closing the door to Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin going deep and of course, the chant.

For what it’s worth, the Cueto chant was started in my section by a drunk college guy that probably doesn’t even remember Sid Bream beating Barry Bonds’ throw to the plate.

Enough with the nostalgia, though. Andrew McCutchen is the heart and sole of this team and one of the best and maybe the most important Pirate of all-time. If you want to win in 2018, you must keep Cutch.

PITTSBURGH, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Andrew McCutchen /


The Pirates dealt with their share of health problems in 2017 which contributed to a sub-par season. Pittsburgh dealt with the loss of Jameson Taillon because of cancer as well as several injuries to Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli.

They also dealt with a pair of players being suspended or unable to play with Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte.

The Pirates don’t have the luxury, with a small payroll, of being able to seamlessly replace players of that caliber. That showed.

Every team inevitably will deal with injuries, it’s all about avoiding the injuries to key players.

Improved Pitching

The reason the Pirates made three consecutive trips to the postseason were in large part due to their pitching. They were anchored by vets such as Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett while starting to work in Gerrit Cole. The bullpen was fantastic with the likes of Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jason Grilli.

CINCINNATI, OH – AUGUST 26: Gerrit Cole /

The Pirates have struggled to replicate that makeup in their pitching staff the last few years. While projects like Liriano, Burnett and even Edinson Voloquez have worked out. The Pirates have not been able to bring their prospects to the next level.

Chad Kuhl has been up and down while Tyler Glasnow has not been able to replicate his terrific minor league resume. The Pirates need improved pitching. Whether that is Cole becoming the ace he showed he could be in 2015. Whether that’s finding the next Liriano or Burnett, an aging veteran that becomes an ace. Or even Glasnow and Taillon taking their next steps.

The Pirates pitching simply put, must be better.

Young Players Progress

In their short careers, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have been great, but they’ve also been frustrating. The two players are supremely talented and can offer a lot to the Pirates.

In back to back seasons Marte has hit .311 (2016) and hit 19 homers (2015). He’s also stolen 47 bases (2016). Combine those seasons and he is a potential MVP candidate.

Polanco, on the other hand, has a fantastic swing. I’ll take a .260 average from him (career high is .258) as long as you get 35 doubles (2015) and 20-plus homers (2016).

PITTSBURGH, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Starling Marte /

Pair those two with McCutchen as well as the emerging Josh Bell and the Pirates have a core of hitters that’s as good as any in baseball.