The Pittsburgh Pirates have played 13 games so far this year, and have won 5. Considering all the things that have gone wrong, winning 5 games at this point, goes way beyond expectations. They have not been doing it with mirrors either, but I will get to the stats, later. The biggest thing that went wrong, is that they lost their best player, Ke’Bryan Hayes to injury, after the first game. It was a major blow, almost before the season started. Despite that, they won 4 more games. There does seem to be some hope for this team, since they split a 4 game series with the San Diego Padres, one of the better teams in the National League. One of the Padre games set baseball back about a hundred years, where the Pirate pitchers walked 13 batters, hit 3 more, and yet won the game rather easily, 8 to 4. There are some things to like about this team, and their manager.
Despite losing Hayes, and having no production, and I mean one big fat zero, from the centerfield position, the Pirates did not hit bad as a team. Their OBP is 8th in the Majors and their OPS+ is 11th. Unfortunately, that did not compute into as many runs as it could have, due to the fact, they only had 7 batters, each game, capable of putting the ball in play. In total runs, they are currently 17th. Even when they put Wilmer Difo in centerfield, who at the time was swinging a hot bat, he struck out 4 times and hung an 0 for 5 collar. The pitching and defense have not faired as well. In Defensive Efficiency, they are currently 22nd, which is still a little better, than they have done in the past. In all the significant pitching stats, walks, Whip, ERA+, and FIP, the Pirates rank between 24th and 27th. The only place where they are above average, is striking out batters, ranking 11th. So far, I love the way Shelton has managed. I do not know whose philosophy this is, but the way the bullpen is being managed is brilliant. Everybody is getting their chance to pitch in some high leverage situations, and there does not seem to be the proverbial 7th and 8th inning man. Yes, Rodriguez does seem be the possible closer, but with the Pirates leading 2-1 in the eighth against the Padres, it was Chris Stratton, warming up in the bullpen. The Pirates did score 3 runs in the eighth, but Stratton was warming up before they scored the runs. I hope this bullpen philosophy continues. He seems to be trying to have a very stable starting line-up, with none of what I call the strange Sunday line-up, that Clint Hurdle was famous for. The Pirates are going to play 15 of their next 20 games on the road. In order for this team to remain viable, they need to at least tread water, and stay somewhere between 3 and 5 games below .500. What needs to happen?
Hopefully, Hayes will come back sooner than later, and can stay healthy. There has got to be better production from the centerfield position. Forget the DH, right now the Pirates have 2 pitchers batting in the line-up as it stands now. That has to end soon, no matter how that is accomplished. Polanco is beginning to show some life. If he can continue, and stay healthy, and not hurt anybody else, like throwing a bat in the dugout, or running over Phillip Evans, then that will be a big plus. Hopefully, the base running and fielding will improve. It should, when Hayes comes back. Then, there is the K twins. I wish K stood for strike out artists, but instead stands for killing any chance of winning a game, when they start. Mitch Keller and Chad Kuhl have got to start pitching better. This is the coaching staffs biggest challenge at the moment, getting these two back on track, and staying on track. The whole rotation needs to improve. Nobody has gone 6 complete innings. That hopefully will start to happen. No matter how well Shelton can handle the bullpen, it needs a rest, once in awhile. With all the problems, and some bad luck, running into a red hot hitting Cincinnati team didn’t help, the Pirates won 5 out of 13 games. That doesn’t sound that great and the next 20 games could be difficult, but with any good luck, we will still see the Pirates right around .500 when we visit them again on May 10th.