Pittsburgh Pirates: Week in Review

Posted on Jun 20 2017 - 1:42pm by Anthony Valvo
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Over the course of the last seven games they have showed consistent progress with their hitting.

At a record of 32-38 it is obvious that the Pittsburgh Pirates are a bit disappointed of the record, despite increasing throughout the lineup. Just a few missed bullpen opportunities hurt the Pirates at not only a .500 record but possibly a share of the National League Central, still within five games of current opponents Milwaukee for the lead.

So who was hot? Who was not? What should we expect for this week when the Pirates travel on the road against Milwaukee and St. Louis? Here is the lineup on the good and bad of Pirates baseball.

  1. What happened last week?

The last seven games merited mixed results with missed chances. The Pirates cooled the Rockies bats for most of their series, winning 2 of 3 while allowing the National League’s best hitting team to only nine runs in a three game series.

The following series the Pirates played against the defending World Series Champions, the Chicago Cubs. After missing a great chance of winning the opening game failed to continue their momentum losing two of three to conclude the home section of the past week 3-3.

There is hope for the Pirates on the 7-game road trip, defeating the Brewers last night 8-1 on some great pitching by Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen going 2-5 with his 13th Home Run and 3 RBIs.

  1. Mercer and McCutchen continue impressive numbers

We can’t start this without discussing the fantastic numbers this past week of Jordy Mercer and Andrew McCutchen.

Mercer continues being hot at the plate, increasing his batting average to .278 and playing defense at shortstop that could merit consideration for a Gold Glove, committing only three errors in 69 games. Over course of seven games, Mercer went 7 for 19, hitting one home run, and showing patience at mostly the No. 8 hitting position.

McCutchen might be arguably the hottest hitter in June and last week continued the case. McCutchen saw his batting average go from around .200 to .260 and hit four home runs, driven in nine runs batted in and averaged .333 over the last seven games. He saved his best game on June 13th in front of the Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In that game against the Rockers, McCutchen hit two home runs.

  1. David Freese shows consistency

Freese was brought into the Pirates last year to pitch in occasionally and allow starting third baseman Jung Ho Kang a break during the season. This season Freese has played third base for most of the year and produced nicely last week at the hot corner, especially robbing Anthony Rizzo of a hit on Sunday.

His hitting over the last seven games was consistent despite a high strikeout count. He earned seven hits (six singles) and improved his batting average to .272 and committed zero errors this past week.

  1. Gerrit Cole is back.

If the Pirates want to compete in the NL Central, they need pitchers like Cole to pitch lights out every time he starts. After a rough batch of starts, Cole looks to be back with improved control on his location. Cole pitched seven innings in each of his last two starts, allowed two earned runs and just six hits. Even at the plate he contributed well, earning a base hit and advanced runners with two sacrifice bunts in his last five plate appearances.

  1. The best and worst of times for Taillon

Jameson Taillon has showed legendary bravery over the last few years. His latest obstacle was testicular cancer and how he is pitching just weeks after surgery is highly commendable. His first start against the Rockies showed how great he was and an important part to the Pirates rotation. He allowed zero runs and struck out five against the Rockies last week, helping the Pirates win 7-2.

Taillon’s second start showed disappointment against the talented lineup against the Cubs. He lumbered through five innings allowing eight hits (including four doubles) and four earned runs. His road to full recovery will be bumpy, but when he performs well he will compliment Cole well in the Pirates starting rotation.

  1. The bullpen suffered, but they possibly found their closer.

After two blown saves in Baltimore, manager Clint Hurdle had no choice but to relief Tony Watson of his closing duties and share the role to Juan Nicasio and Felipe Rivero. At the time it was justified since both pitchers were impressive in their setup roles throughout the season.

However, after watching the last few games it was clear who the Pirates should consider going to. Nicasio pitched a solid one-inning game against the Rockies that led to a Rivero’s decent ninth inning, but when he had an opportunity last Friday against the Cubs he had his worst performance of the season. Nicasio allowed four runs without recording an out and has not pitched since that outing.

Rivero has been looked at as the team’s “closer of the future.”

In my opinion, it is safe to deliberate he should be the team’s closer going forward. Rivero showed his 100+mph fastball with fantastic off-speed control in yet another phenomenal week. Over his last three performances, Rivero pitched 3 2/3 innings, completing his only save opportunity and had a 2.45 ERA (increasing his ERA to a whopping 0.72).

In a league of power numbers the Pirates have to neutralize it with power of their own. It’s safe to debate that Rivero is their best bullpen arm and should be treated as such.

Watson pitched the same amount of innings this past week at Rivero, but he allowed eight total hits and could not stop the Cubs momentum last Friday. Batters hit .444 against Watson in his last four games and he has not shown the exciting control that he showed for many years as the team’s setup reliever before the Mark Melancon trade.

  1. But it’s just not Nicasio and Watson

As I checked out the statistics of the other relief pitchers the blame on the struggles should not go to just Nicasio’s one bad outing and Watson’s battles. Here are some other numbers:

Juan Marinez allowed seven hits in his last five appearances.

Wade LeBlanc after some great work in May, struggled with a 7.36 ERA in his last three outings.

An overall bullpen BA allowed over .300.

There is plenty to go around and something to fix. With Cole’s strong outing last night, they only had to use one reliever. Here’s hoping the extra rest for their taxed bullpen is just what they needed.

  1. Hot Takes

Other than last night’s 0-5 performance, first baseman Josh Bell was hitting .294 and only struck out one time in 21 appearances at the plate. He even added a home run, arguably the most impressive home run of the week to increase his total to 12 (just one behind McCutchen).

Chad Khul over Tyler Glasnow was a smart decision, although Khul will need to slow down his off speed pitches to make his fastball more deceiving. And while Khul allowed 3 runs in 5 innings in his last start, it was better than most of what Glasnow produced.

In case readers are wondering, Glasnow pitched six innings in his first start for Indianapolis. He won the game, but allowed four walks.

Ivan Nova is an artist on the pitcher’s mound. I look forward to watching him pitch every time because he is so consistent with his control. He had a solid performance to help the Pirates earn their only win in the Cubs series.

The Pirates have quite a quagmire at the catcher position. Francisco Cervelli is struggling at the plate and had two passed balls last night. Elias Diaz cooled off in his last few games, but has hit the ball well while improving on his catching. Chris Stewart has been activated after spending a couple weeks on the Disabled List. As of now I think the Pirates keep three catchers at least for another week but I’d expect Diaz to be sent down to Triple AAA league when they got back to two catchers.

  1. What’s Next

The Pirates are only five games back of the Brewers and can continue to catch up to them for the next three games. Khul will face Zach Davies today, Trevor Williams will be matched with Junior Guerra on Wednesday, and Nova will wrap up the series against Chase Anderson on Thursday.

After their series at Miller Park, the Pirates will travel to St. Louis and face a struggling St. Louis Cardinals team. And while the Pirates don’t have their rotation set as of this column they will be facing Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn in the first two games of their series.

Photo of Jameson Taillon courtesy of Justin Berl/Getty Images.

Twitter: @TheMisterV