Next up . . . the Pittsburgh Pirates. I say they’re the next longest shot to make it into the playoffs, because they’re one of four teams fighting for the two Wild Card spots in the NL, and that’s their only shot at making it in. They’re 10 games behind Cincinnati in their division, and are in 3rd place. So, while Tampa Bay and St. Louis made amazing runs last year, that’s not likely to repeat. So, let’s take a look at this World Series contender, and their chances of winning it all:
3 Reasons Why:
- A Lights-Out Bullpen – Only the Reds’ bullpen has a better ERA in the NL. Hanrahan has only blown 3 saves all season, and leads the NL with 34 saves. Jason Grilli is their set-up man, who has an impressive 2.16 ERA, with 76 K’s in just 50 IP. And, before you get to those two guys, Hurdle could pull his starter for RHP Jared Hughes (2.77 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), or LHP Tony Watson (3.83 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), or RHP Brad Lincoln (2.73 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 4.29 K/BB). Shortening the game is one way to make it deep into the playoffs.
- Andrew McCutcheon – he’s certainly cooled off a bit over the last couple weeks. But, he still leads the NL in batting, OBP, runs, and is second in OPS and WAR, and 3rd in SLG. He’s also 4th in all of baseball in wRC+, where his 160 rating tells us he’s creating 60% more runs for his team than the average player. Add to all this the fact that he’s playing a near-flawless center field (just one error all season), and it’s clear he’s the heart and soul of this team.
- Clint Hurdle – it would be tough for me to give the NL Manager of the Year award to anyone else. I know the Nationals have made a big turnaround from last season – but, don’t forget that their #1 & #2 starters this year weren’t even on the team last year. And, most everyone else is doing what they should be able to do with the talent they have on the field. Hurdle has helped this team keep its collective head up, after a disastrous finish last year to a season that started so well. He’s kept them motivated and pushing hard into the last season for a spot in the postseason.
3 Why Not:
- Strikeouts – the Pirates strike out at a higher rate than any other team in baseball. That wouldn’t be quite so bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that they also have fewer walks than any other team in the NL, which leads to them having the 3rd worst OBP in the game (only the Cubs and Mariners are worse). Think about how bad that is, considering the fact that you have the league leader in OBP at the plate at least once every 3 innings. How bad must the rest of the team be at swinging and missing??
- Driving in runners – with men in scoring position, the Pirates have fewer RBI than any NL contender. In fact, only the Marlins, Cubs and Astros (some pretty awful teams), have fewer than the Pirates at all. Runs are usually at a premium in the playoffs, due to the excellent pitching. If you don’t drive in the guys when you have a chance, you’re going to regret it later.
- Home . . . runs – no, not HR’s, but runs at home. Winning on the road during the regular season is one thing, but winning on the road in the playoffs is exponentially more difficult (9 of the last 12 World Series champs have had home field advantage). While the Pirates seem to play pretty well on the road, their home field numbers are some of the worst in the game. They have the 2nd worst batting average at home in the NL. Subsequently, they are creating 15% fewer runs than the league average (an 85 wRC+) at home.
Well, that’s my thoughts on the Pirates’ playoff chances. What do you think?