With a depleted roster, its crucial that Clint Hurdle manages the Pirates correctly.
The Pirates are now 2.5 games back of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and a game and a half out of an NL Wild Card spot behind the Cardinals and Giants. With the current state of the lineup and roster will the Pirates be able to remain in playoff contention?
As of right now, the Bucs are sliding a bit. The other teams are winning and gaining some ground as the Pirates are at arguably their lowest point of the season. Coming off of a west-coast swing of missed opportunities and dropped games that led to a .500 road trip, the Pirates have returned home with a lineup that resembles a AAA club.
To give you an idea of the current state of the Pirates lineup, in the 9th inning last night the Pirates sent Martinez, Nix and Stewart to the plate. The white flag was clearly waived by Clint Hurdle before the inning but it still highlights how depleted the Pirates currently are.
Cutch remains in limbo right now as he and the team continue to evaluate his injury. He's dealing with an avulsion fracture of the 11th rib on his left-side. There is the possibility that McCutchen may heal up before 15 days which is the reason to not place him on the 15-day DL. However, the injury that Cutch sustained is one that could linger and nag. Being on his left side, it affects him both at the plate and in the field. The area is strained when swinging and throwing. For that reason who knows how long Cutch could be out for. He could be back in the lineup shorter than we expect. At the same time this is something that could plague him for say a month or so. The Pirates need Cutch. Without him glaring holes open up in the lineup. Guys are forced to shift positions which takes away from the quality of the Pirates defense. The batting order is scrambled, leaving the Pirates with no choice but to bat guys in spots they regularly wouldn't. Without Cutch, the Pirates are going to have to claw and scratch their way to wins the entire time he is gone.
Gerrit Cole is still on the shelf down in Indy. After a promising rehab start last week it seemed Cole would rejoin the team this home stand. The Pirates had other plans, they left Cole in Indy, having him throw a few more bullpen sessions and ultimately one more rehab start again last night. The Pirates said there were some mechanical issues with him they still wanted to work out. His outing last night was a huge step backwards. Cole went 4.1 IP, allowing ten hits and five earned runs. He said it was a tough outing for him, that he was working on some things that normally he wouldn't be doing in a game. His fastball velocity wavered through the start. Going from 95-97 all the way down to 91-92 mph. Cole said he wasn't full-effort last night, something that had got him in trouble in the first rehab outing. I'm not sure what going 100% would have caused trouble for him or how it did but apparently that was an issue the first time. To me if there's anything for Pirate fans to worry about right now, it should be Gerrit Cole and his outing last night.
Finally, the Pirates on the roster currently and even in the starting lineup are not in top shape. Starling Marte was recalled before yesterday's game. Even he noted that he's not back at 100% yet and that he had some other things he wanted to work on before returning to the team. He was inserted right into the lineup and leadoff spot last night, the Pirates had no choice. Although he did okay, his at bats highlighted that he's not fully ready and at a point to be a key contributor like the Pirates need him to be. Neil Walker is dealing with a lingering back issue. He came out of the game last night after his back tightened up on him. That left Jayson Nix at second. He can't be at second, the 7 year vet is slow and looks uncomfortable in the field to be honest. Without Neil out there you're sacrificing on the defensive side. Even more so you sacrifice at the plate. Right now, he's one of the Pirates only real power threats. To me he should be batting in that 3 spot while Cutch is out instead of JHay, that's where he should have been to start the game last night. So there's still some worry regarding those two. Two guys who the Pirates need to rely on while Cutch is sidelined.
Look for Travis Snider to start tonight's game. He may be tried in that cleanup spot again. No one has yet to step up and have production out of that spot. The rotating platoon will remain at first base. You still see nothing from Gaby and Ike, which has been a problem all year. You know what you're gonna get from the rest of the guys. Mercer has stayed steady, JHay will get ya a couple knocks a night and maybe a big fly. The Pirates just have to string some magic together. Everyone has to do their part. You can't have errors and miscues in the field just as you can't leave guys on base at the plate. You're not gonna get a ton of base runners with the current lineup, when they do get some guys out there they have to get them in. As always, need to continue to see good, quality starts from the pitching staff. Charlie did it for them last night, if they can continue to get starts like that then they will be in every game regardless of the lineup.
They're still very much in playoff contention. But it's not gonna get any easier, if anything tougher. The Pirates need to hang in their and make the best of a tough situation. The team morale seems upbeat and positive, that's what you want. Hang in there Buccos!