At the halfway mark last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were flying high and on their way to a playoff appearance for the first time in over 20 years. The Bucs are very much in the playoff hunt this season, but they find themselves in a much closer race.
Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington believes this year’s team is in a better position than last season’s.
“We felt less comfortable with last year’s club, as silly as it sounds with the win-loss record,” Huntington said Sunday. “But we had a pretty glaring need in right field that we went out and addressed, and even at first base. As we sit here right now, we have some internal options that if they step forward, we’re going to get some quality production from them. But we’ll still look to get better if there’s an opportunity out there.”
The 2013 team often lacked offense and the acquisitions of right fielder Marlon Byrd and first baseman Justin Morneau helped power Pittsburgh into October. However, it appears Huntington doesn’t see as big of a need for improvement with this year’s club.
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Pirates may not make any moves. Like all playoff contenders, Pittsburgh is testing the market but Huntington doesn’t feel the urgency for an upgrade is as dire as last July.
“We have some guys that still have room to grow,” Huntington said. “We don’t have a ton of guys having career years. We’ve got some guys we think are on the rebound or we think are ready to take steps forward. But there are also players out there, whether it’s starting pitching, relievers, position players, role players that we think can help us.”
With that being said, third base, first base and the bullpen appear to be the weakest links on this Pirates team. Last season the “Shark Tank” was one of, if not, the best, bullpen in baseball, but this year they have experienced a shaky ride at times.
The four game series against the Cardinals before the All-Star break is an example of whether this bullpen can hold up when the going gets tough. The relievers were tagged for walk-off losses in the first two games and they blew the save the following Friday against the Reds.
While the bullpen has been sharp since returning from the break, it doesn’t mean the problems have been solved. Pittsburgh will need their relievers to perform against division opponents as the hunt for October continues.
The roller coaster ride of Pedro Alvarez is another issue the Pirates are faced with. Last season the third baseman was among the league leaders in homers and an All-Star, but this season his struggles at the plate are apparent, and atrocious throws in the field have cost the Pirates games.
Alvarez has committed 21 errors, 20 of which have been throwing errors. While the Pirates aren’t ready to write off Alvarez, many fans are frustrated with his performance.
First base is another area that lacks production. The platoon of Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez has been less than stellar. In his last three starts, Sanchez has gone 4-for-10, including an RBI double on Saturday against the Rockies, but this doesn’t mean the problem has been resolved. First base is still a major question mark for the Bucs.
With these questions lingering, will Huntington pull the trigger on a deal that will help Pittsburgh get into the playoffs? Or will he sit back and hope Clint Hurdle‘s troops can fight through the problems?
Only time will tell as the deadline quickly approaches.