It takes no deep analysis to realize that the Pirates might not be the same team that notched three postseason appearances and 280 wins over the last three years. The Pittsburgh Pirates sit at 37-40 after suffering 21 losses in their last 30 contests and find themselves four and a half games out of the National League Wild Card spot.
The dichotomy between the Pirates’ batters and pitching staff has been the root of issues all season in Pittsburgh. Despite some of the Bucco bats cooling down since a hot start, the Pirates as a team rank fourth in the NL in batting average at .265 and third in on-base percentage at .338. However, their pitching staff has failed to accompany that offensive aptitude. The Pirates have a team ERA of 4.54, sitting above the league average of 4.09, and are giving up 9.2 hits per nine innings and 1.2 home runs per nine innings, ranking 11th and 12th in the NL respectively. Only two Pirates starting pitchers flaunt an ERA below 5, so what is the solution?
On June 8th, the Pirates called up Jameson Taillon to try and remedy the starting rotation and eventually move Juan Nicasio, who has the highest ERA on the squad and has went past six innings in only one of his 12 starts, to the bullpen. Taillon’s starts have been anything but telling; the former second overall pick went eight deep with no earned runs one game and in the next start got yanked after giving up four in four innings. However, through four starts, Taillon is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA after dueling against Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Kyle Hendricks, and Nick Tepesch.
June 26th rolled around and Chad Kuhl was called up from AAA to take the mound against the pitcher that has thrown 145 strikeouts while walking only nine batters, Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers. Kuhl met the challenge and went five innings while giving up only one earned run to get the win against the All-Star pitcher. Kuhl went 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in AAA before making his debut.
The last big-name pitcher still down in Indianapolis for the Pirates is Tyler Glasnow. As the #10 rated prospect on MLB.com, Glasnow sports a 7-2 record with a staggering 1.70 ERA in the minor leagues. Glasnow’s WHIP of 1.156 remains well below the Pirates’ current team average of 1.435. Admittedly, Glasnow’s production against minor league players could be misleading, but there must be a reason his figures are so impressive. If the Pirates find themselves in the hunt for the Wild Card game later in the season, Glasnow may find himself taking the mound in PNC Park.
Barring any serious trades, the Pirates’ catalyst might indeed spark at the hands of these three men between the ages of 22 and 24. Fortunately for them, the three young arms do not necessarily need to be immediate superstars; if Taillon, Kuhl, and Glasnow can begin to shave off innings for the bullpen that has been called upon far too often, the confidence in the pitching staff might spur a change in production. Moving Nicasio out of the starting rotation would help the ailing relievers and hopefully create some security for a team that puts up 4.6 runs per game.
However, a counterproductive Buccos season might not pull a 180 that easily. With injuries to ace Gerrit Cole and starting catcher Francisco Cervelli, even if Taillon, Kuhl, and Glasnow, fulfill their roles, the Pirates may still be up the NL Central creek without a paddle; that is to say there is no catching the Cubs for the division, so the only chance left to sniff the postseason is another Wild Card appearance at best. Though, if anybody could flip the Pirates’ season on its head, why not any of the three most promising pitchers in Pittsburgh’s system?
By: Oscar Rzodkiewicz