Pittsburgh Pirates: Week in Review June 19-25

Posted on Jun 26 2017 - 8:32pm by Anthony Valvo
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Just when they are rise up to the occasion, they find a way to be “The Pirates” again.

These are some of the rumblings on Twitter and other social media outlets every time the Pirates show their struggles. The Pirates could only earn a 4-3 record for the week, yet still in striking distance of first place in the National League Central. At a record of 35-41 they are just five games back of first place, owned currently by the Milwaukee Brewers.

The earned a split at Miller Park against the Brewers and took the series in St. Louis. But despite the efforts there could be more improvement down the road. However, there were some key moments and players that helped keep the Pirates afloat in the NL Central. Here is the Week in Review Lineup for June 19-25, 2017.

1) The Downward Spiral (Part 1)

The first two games in Milwaukee were not bad for the bullpen pitchers. They allowed no runs and allowed four hits in that time frame.  Then the wheels fell off last Wednesday. After a strong start by Trevor Williams, they handed the ball off to a struggling Tony Watson.

Watson pitched a strong 2/3 of an inning, but allowed a base runner to score. Then Daniel Hudson only needed one out in the seventh inning and allowed Domingo Santana to hit a 2-run home run and it was a deficit the Pirates could not recover from. Hudson’s struggles continued a couple days later, he was called to the mound to pitch for Jameson Tallion and allowed another home run. Hudson did not pitch the rest of the series.

Tony Watson did not technically allow an earned run against him, but he inherited runners and allowed them to score in both series last week.

Juan Nicasio apparently had fatigue recently, yet appeared in three games. He walked four batters, allowed four runs and took the loss on Sunday’s 8-4 loss. His 13.50 ERA last week increased his overall ERA to 3.16.

Wade LeBlanc is not off the hook either. He pitched the ninth inning in Saturday’s 7-3 win against the Cardinals, yet struggled along the way. He walked two batters and allowed two earned runs.

It’s safe to think that Felipe Rivero is the closer. But the way the bullpen is going Rivero may have to go above and beyond to keep games from getting out of hand. Sadly that is not his job at this time.

2) The Downward Spiral (Part 2)

Can the bullpen for the Pirates be blamed for everything? Absolutely not! The starters need to get out of short outings. It was evident in Chad Khul’s performances last week.

Khul pitched 10 innings in two games, allowing six earned runs on fifteen hits while carrying a .357 opposing batting average. In one game, his slider was his only good pitch. In the other he blew batters by with his fastball. His starts are not helping an already exhausted bullpen and with a couple weeks before the All-Star Game perhaps there could be changes in the rotation.

Ivan Nova helped the bullpen by going seven innings. But he lumbered throughout last Thursday’s game. Nova allowed eleven hits and four earned runs on 107 pitches.

3) The Bats cooled off…

The biggest question all season for the Pirates is this one: What if Kang and Marte were in the starting lineup?

So many “what ifs” surround the Pirates lineup and a lot of juggling took place. For the last few weeks, the offense found some spark and carried it into Milwaukee and St. Louis. Only two regular starters batted over .250 last week (more on that later).

Jordy Mercer hit only .240 while striking out seven times. Gregory Polanco averaged .240 and did not issue a walk. Josh Harrison only batted .217 last week, but more on him in a moment as well. David Freese and Elias Dias both went under .200.

Also the Pirates gained 32 hits in the first three games. After that? The Pirates got only 22 hits (18 in three games vs. St. Louis). What also hurt the batting averages was the tune of 50 total strikeouts in those seven games.

4) …But the power took off.

Granted the batting average for the team was not strong it’s safe to state that they scored a lot of runs with the long ball.

Last week, the Pirates were able to connect on nine pitches and sent them over the wall. Leading the way was Andrew McCutchen and Josh Bell with 2 home runs each. Those two Pirates currently share the lead with 14 home runs apiece. Mercer, Polanco, Harrison, Jose Osuna and John Jaso each delivered one ball to the stands.

Osuna’s home run put the game against the Brewers last Tuesday out of reach, ending a six-run rally in the first inning in a 7-3 win against Milwaukee. Jaso’s home run came off an eight-pitch at bat as a pinch hitter to produce the game winner in a 4-3 victory on Friday against the Cardinals.

One of the concerns for the Pirates was the lack of power and having to go with a small ball approach to score runs. Last week, the team showed they can hit the ball hard to score.

5) Harrison needs the ice packs.

As mentioned before, Harrison had a rough week in terms of batting average. But his on-base average was .406 and the there are two reasons for such a high mark. He had three walks, but he was hit by a pitch five times (including twice in one game)!

Harrison also continued to be one of the most devious base runners in the majors. In the June 20th game against Milwaukee it appeared that he avoided an out running to 3rd base, only for the umpires to questionably overrule the initial call. He stole three of the team’s four bases last week, thus continuing to show more intensity than the average major league baseball player. All while doing his work with a smile.

6) Lack of contact

Another reason why the Pirates struggled was the lack of contact along the bases. As I mentioned only two Pirates had an above batting average last week. They were McCutchen and Adam Frazier.

McCutchen had the best week of any Pirate offensively, but he did not spread it out all week. In the first two games against Milwaukee, he hit two home runs and six RBIs. In the five games afterwards, he only got a ground-out RBI. Still, he was able to get on base in every St. Louis game (one walk, three singles) and show good plate disciple.

Frazier showed the Pirates that they can depend on him as a consistent lead-off hitter. He hit .296 to get his average back up to a respectable .285 for the season. While not hitting a home run, he delivered on eight hits (three of them extra base hits) while only striking out 3 times in 29 plate appearances.

So overall the power was plenty, but the bats cooled down the last four games. However you can’t fault these two for lack of delivering.

7) This week’s MVP: Gerrit Cole

Pitching was a concern all week. Taillon had a quality start as did Williams. But the numbers last week that stood out was Gerrit Cole’s.

I think it is safe to say (for now) that Cole is back. And it could not be at a better time.

Cole this week won both of his starts and two earned runs in 13 innings (a 1.38 ERA). This helped his season statistics improve to a 6-6 record with a 4.11 ERA. He will have to showcase the pitching style to be the team’s No. 1 starter for the rest of the season, as it showed during the season that the team will survive only by the way they pitch.

He also helped himself offensive last week. In his start against the Brewers, he led the seventh inning off with a base hit and scored on a Harrison double. Cole’s run scored started a four-run inning to extend the lead to the eventual 8-1 victory. He showed patience at the plate against the Cardinals in collecting a walk while at the plate. Though he did not score, he walked with two outs in the sixth inning and the Pirates collected two more runs after Cole’s at bat to help the Pirates win 7-3 on June 24th.

8) Random Thoughts

I don’t know how long Francisco Cervelli will be out on the 7-day Disabled List with concussion like symptoms. After his performance in his only game last week (two passed balls), it was clear that he was not 100 percent. Diaz and Stewart can handle the catching duties for now, but my take is that we will see more of those two for a couple more weeks. When Cervelli is healthy, he will be welcomed back with open arms.

It probably is safe to pull the plug on Khul as a starter for the time being, but I don’t think he should be demoted to Indianapolis. Khul as a long reliever might be a good addition to a taxed bullpen. Steven Brault is doing a great job in the minors and I think it is worth taking another flyer on him as the Pirates No. 5 starter. To add to this suggestion, I think the Pirates are stuck with Hudson’s salary so LeBlanc might be either demoted or DFA’d.

I’m impressed with the team defense on the infield. Josh Bell learned first base very quickly and in due time he will be the first baseman the Pirates needed for a long time. Freese made some quality plays and was error-free for the week and Polanco made at lease three impressive plays on June 23rd, practically saving the game for the Pirates.

9) What’s Next

The Pirates return to PNC Park their final home-stand of the All-Star break. They will host the Tampa Bay Rays from 6/27 – 6/29 and the struggling San Francisco Giants from 6/30 – 7/2.

I can be reached at @TheMisterV on Twitter. Until next week.