Monday, May 11, 2015

The Pirates - 31 Games In

I have been fairly quiet, at least on this Blog, about the State of the Pirates in 2015.  It was my intention all along to wait until about 30 games, or approximately 20% of the season was in the books.  The conclusion of a weekend series with the Cardinals allowed for the perfect demarcation point.  Thirty-one games, almost twenty percent of the season.  

So, here we go.

The team sits at 15-16, tied for third in the NL Central, and seven games behind the Cardinals.  Certainly not what we had hoped for, but not worth jumping off of the Fort Duquesne Bridge, either.  (In case you were wondering, the 2014 team was 12-19 and the 2013 team was 17-14 after thirty-one games).  Here is one thing about this first fifth of the season that does raise a red flag for me, though.  The combined record for the Pirates against the Cardinals, Reds, and Cubs stands at 6-13; they are 11-14 in the division overall,  thanks to a 5-1 record against Milwaukee.  Still early, still a small sample size, but it is a continuation of a disturbing trend from last year when the team went 22-35 against the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers, and 36-40 in the Central Division.  Perhaps that two-of-three series win against St. Louis this weekend will signal an upward trend going forward.

As for individual performances, the starts of Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, and Jordy Mercer have been disappointing.  Up until a week ago, all three carried batting averages below .200.  McCutchen seems to have righted the ship.  In the last seven days, he has batted .333 with an OPS of .885 to bring his numbers up to .223 and .658.  Harrison and Mercer remain at .173 / .491 and .194 / .481, and, if anything, their "last 7 days" numbers appear to the trending down.

I have no concerns, none, that McCutchen will be the MVP caliber player that we have seen over the course of his career.  We have also seen this before with Mercer.  In 2014, he was awful at the plate through mid-May, but was solid from that point forward.  The team can only hope that that happens again. As for Harrison, many people had to wonder about the breakout season he had in 2014.  Was it real, or was he a One Hit Wonder who would regress to being the utility guy he had been throughout his career?  The jury is still out on that, and I am sure that the people who made the decision to give him that big contract are rolling their rosary beads over the outcome on how this one will play out.

As for others, Starling Marte looks like he will have a big breakout season, Gregory Polonco is still learning, and Neal Walker is having a solid year at .287 with a .767 OPS (and his "last 7" numbers, .389 and 1.059, are off the charts)

And then there is Pedro Alvarez.  He seems to be handling the move to first base reasonably well, defensively.  His offensive numbers, however, sit at .217 with 5 HR, 14 RBI, and a.753 OPS.  Oh, and 27 K's in 92 at bats.  Alvarez has now accumulated over 2,100 at bats in the major leagues.  We can probably draw some conclusions.  He's going to hit 25-30 HR's in a season, drive in about 90 runs, hit about .235, and strike out 180 or so times.  He will make our jaws drop with some of the blasts that he will hit, and he will drive us totally nuts when he looks completely impotent at the plate swinging and missing while striking out in key situations.  Love him or hate him, what we have seen is what he is.

As far as the pitching is concerned, I will only say this: if the starting pitching continues to perform as it has over the first 31 games, I will sign up for that right now and take my chances with how the team will fare in the standings when 162 games are in the books.  Gerrit Cole has been a real ace, A.J Burnett has been a revelation, Liriano has been solid, and even the back end of the rotation, Worley and Locke have been serviceable.  The back end of the bullpen, Hughes, Watson, and Melancon (after a shaky start) are getting the job done, and there are a couple of other guys in the pen who are intriguing, particularly Arqueimedes Caminero.  I want to see more of him as the season rolls on.

And how about that guy pictured at the top of this post?  The decision to bring Jung Ho Kang north with the team caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among some Pirates followers.  Heck, even the decision to sign him in the first place out of the Korean Baseball Organization was questioned.  Not so much today.  Granted, questions remain, but as of this morning, Kang is hitting .333 with 2 HR, 9 RBI, and .898 OPS in only 48 at bats.  He is arguably the hottest hitter on the team.  Clint Hurdle has done a great job in finding playing time for him, and he must absolutely, one would think, continue to somehow keep him in the lineup while his bat remains hot.  He has also looked quite good in the field at both 2B and 3B.

In conclusion, yeah, you wish they were doing better, but it is early.  A well placed hit in any of those three games in St. Louis last week would have meant a three game sweep for the Pirates against  the Cards, and a record of 18-13 today, and talk of ordering playoff tickets for October.  It didn't happen that way, and we will all just see how it will even out, or if it will even out, over the course of 162 games.

There is no definitive answer as to when "Hey, it's still early" turns into "Hey, these guys better start moving here" which turns into "Hey, this season is a goner".  We just have to sit back, enjoy the action day by day, and, dare I say it, take it one game at a time.

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