At just over the one-third mark of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 29-32 and find themselves seven games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central and two games back in the Wild Card race. After a disappointing start, the Pirates are playing better as of late, but they need to keep it up if they hope on making the playoffs again.
Pittsburgh failed to upgrade the offense during the winter, but the offense has been playing relatively well. During April, the Pirates were hitting home runs but they were mostly solo shots. In May, the batters started to come around and in June, they are getting key hits and the long ball.
Neil Walker is having a career year with 11 homers and 35 RBIs. Russell Martin is batting .364 with runners in scoring position and has helped the Pirates climb out of the early season hole. The surprise play of Josh Harrison has also been a reason for the Pirates recent success. Harrison isn’t a power hitter but he gets clutch hits and has the speed they needed in the leadoff spot. The reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen is having another solid year after a slow start. He is batting .302 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs.
There is still room for improvement, but the Pirates offense has steadily improved as the season has progressed. They need to cut back on the runners stranded in games and capitalize when bases are loaded and no outs. The addition of Gregory Polanco may be the addition they need.
The Pirates defense has left much to desire thus far in 2014. In fact, it has been costly at times. As a team, they have committed 51 errors. Pedro Alvarez has committed 13 of them himself. A team that was supposed to take pride in its defense has made many lackluster mistakes, dropped fly balls, balls thrown into the outfield. These mistakes have cost them games. They had five errors in a 9-3 loss to the Brewers on Saturday.
Starting pitching has been a disappointment for Pittsburgh so far in 2014. They were depending on Liriano to be the ace, and he has struggled mightily. Control has been an issue that has plagued many of the Pirates starters. Morton, Liriano, and Volquez have all been prone to walking batters. Errors and Liriano’s walks cost the Pirates last week in San Diego. They gave up one hit, but the Padres scored three runs. The pitching staff has also failed to go deep in games. This is an issue they must fix over the next two-thirds of the season.
The Bullpen has been solid. Since returning from the disabled list, Jason Grilli looks like the closer of last season. Mark Melancon has resumed the setup man role, and Tony Watson comes in to close out the seventh. The trio has batters baffled. Watson is having by-far his best season. Jeanmar Gomez is the weakest link to the Shark Tank, but the additions of Casey Sadler and the return of Stomyl Pimmentel will strengthen it.
Overall, the bullpen has been able to pick up the rotations slack in many games.
Despite a poor start, the Pirates still have a shot at the playoffs. Players need to continue to hit and the long ball is a plus. The defense needs to improve and the base running needs work. Starling Marte cannot continue to have mental lapses on the bases. The pitching staff has looked a little better, but they need to work on control. If the pitching staff can get back on track, Pittsburgh will be right where they need to be.