The 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates are a much different team from years past. For the first time since 2010 when they lost 52 games by the fourth of July, the Pirates (42-41) have questions regarding their role when it comes to the trade deadline.
As always, the trade deadline (August 1 this year) is bound to be an exciting one. With the Pirates sitting just one game above the .500 mark, many think that it may be time to sell and bring younger talent into the organization. However, the time is now for the Pirates to buy in, despite a rough first half.
So you’re telling me there’s a chance
With the success of the Chicago Cubs this season, there is a bit of a gap in the National League Central division standings. The Cubs have an nine-game lead over the second place St. Louis Cardinals, the largest division lead in baseball, and a 10.5-game lead over the Pirates. However, the Cubs have proven to be human as of late.
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While the Pirates have won five games in a row and the Cardinals have won three of their last four, the Cubs have lost four of their last five. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and are fresh off a sweep at the hands of the New York Mets this past weekend. A 10.5-game gap may seem like a lot, but it’s not much in the month of July.
The Pirates have a perfect opportunity to shorten up the gap in the division before next week’s All Star break, as they take on the Cardinals and Cubs in back-to-back series.
The Pirates also remain contenders in the NL Wild Card race, trailing the Mets by 3.5 games for the second Wild Card spot. With the struggles the Pirates have endured in past Wild Card games against aces such as Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta, a berth in the game doesn’t seem ideal. However, getting that opportunity is better than missing the playoffs as a whole.
The 162-game major league baseball season is a long and grueling road. Team’s shouldn’t give up on their season in the month of July and the Pirates are no different. They are still legitimate contenders in the Wild Card race and could create some chatter in the division race if they play well in their remaining games before the break.
Minor league guys creating hope
One thing the Pirates have done this year compared to the last few years is that they have used the depth within their minor league system to their advantage. Pitchers Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl and Wilfredo Boscan and utility man Adam Frazier have all made their major league debuts this season and have had a relatively large impact in a short period of time.
Taillon and Kuhl have each become big parts of the Pirates starting rotation, while Boscan made an impact at one point in the bullpen, but struggled in one start. Frazier has also made an impact, hitting .500 in 14 at-bats since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Steven Brault will be the latest minor league star to attempt to make an impact as he makes his major league debut tonight against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Having these guys contribute at a high level gives the Pirates the luxury of using some of the veteran guys as trade pieces once the deadline approaches. Bench guys such as David Freese and Matt Joyce could be shopped around as young minor league guys like Frazier could possibly step up into a bigger bench role. Not saying that these veteran guys will be shopped because it is important to have veteran leadership on the bench, but there are plenty of guys in the minor leagues that could help out the Pirates bench. It is that young depth that has provided the Pirates with options going into July 31.
Starting rotation help is coming
When it comes to the Pirates starting rotation, there is plenty to be optimistic about. The success of Taillon and Kuhl, the eventual return of Gerrit Cole and the possible future call up of top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow are reasons to buy at the deadline to make the team stronger for a postseason push.
In five starts this season, Taillon is 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 28 innings. Taillon has also only walked five batters, showing incredible command in each outing. Taillon was placed on the 15-day disabled list yesterday with forearm soreness, but it’s possible that they could just be shutting him down until after the All-Star break.
Kuhl, on the other hand, has only made two starts, but has looked impressive in the process. He is 1-0 with a 4.09 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in those two outings. After allowing three runs and walking four in his first start, Kuhl only gave up two earned runs and didn’t allow a walk in his latest outing against the Seattle Mariners. Kuhl has also pitched at least five innings in each of his starts.
Being that they are both rookies, there still has to be some acceptance of the fact that there are going to be struggles. Both are still adapting to major league hitting, but have looked good in doing it. They are part of the Pirates future and have given fans hope that the future might be now.
The Pirates have been without their undisputed ace since the beginning of June. Cole hasn’t started a game since June 10 when he went down with a right triceps muscle strain; however, he could be back shortly after the break. After pitching a simulated game, Cole is scheduled to make a rehab start for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians tonight. He is expected to only throw a couple of innings, but this in itself should give fans something to look forward to. Cole has been the anchor of the Pirates staff for years and even though he struggled at times before he was injured, he is still the best pitcher in the Pirates rotation.
With the struggles that the back end of the rotation has had throughout the year, it may all be solved once the Pirates decide to call up Tyler Glasnow. However, the question still remains as to whether or not that will happen this season. Glasnow has had obvious trouble with command, allowing 52 walks in 96 innings pitched. With the bad, also comes some good, as Glasnow has become one of the biggest threats on the mound, compiling 113 strikeouts and holding opponents to a .176 batting average.
Glasnow is arguably one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but his inability to keep his walk rate down is the main reason as to why he is still in the minor leagues. However, there is no doubting his talent level and he will likely be able to help the Pirates down the road and hopefully get a call up to make an impact in the second half of the season.
Though it may be tough to ask a few rookies to immediately become a huge part of the starting rotation, it could be a reality for the Pirates and could make them better. These rookies and the return of Cole could help keep the Pirates in contention throughout the season and allow them to trade some pieces to help them make a run into October.
Believe it or not, the Pirates bullpen, which has struggled over the course of the season, has been relatively good as of late. Since June 24, the pen has allowed only one run in 35.1 innings. Surprisingly enough, Arquimedes Caminero has led the way over the course of this streak, allowing four hits in 5.2 innings while striking out nine. The bullpen as a whole has also lessened the amount of free passes during this span, allowing seven walks.
Though the bullpen has improved as of late, there is still room for improvement. There are plenty of relief pitchers in the trade market and the Pirates should most definitely look to improve arguably the weakest aspect of their team.
Buy, don’t sell
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a good baseball team and there is no reason to give up in the month of July. They are not out of the division just yet and still remain in a good spot in the Wild Card chase.
Despite the struggles, they do have one of the best offenses in baseball and have allowed their minor league depth to help them at the major league level. They might not be too active on the trade market once the deadline comes around, but they shouldn’t sell on their players for nothing. They have a good opportunity to improve their ball club and it should be expected of them to be somewhat busy in the days leading up to the deadline.
Image credit: Julie Jacobson