Kovacevic: Pirates' burden falls on all 25
There's nothing at all wrong with these Pirates that Gregory Polanco couldn't fix. Provided, of course, the kid could scale the 21-foot Clemente Wall, consume six or seven spots on Clint Hurdle's lineup card, climb the mound every fifth day and, if he wanted to show off, part the Allegheny on his daily walk to work.
Did I mention hitting the occasional nine-run homer?
“We know what everyone in Pittsburgh is talking about right now. We know it's Polanco,” Starling Marte, Polanco's Dominican countryman and friend, was telling me on a wild Wednesday at PNC Park, where the Pirates needed every stroke of their offensive output to put down Baltimore, 9-8. “He's a good hitter. We all know that. But he's one player. It takes 25 to win.”
Or, it takes 25 to turn a season into something even uglier than this three-hour, 28-minute slush.
Not to be the downer here. The Pirates battled back in this one. Overcame what might have been Wandy Rodriguez's Matt Morris-esque farewell start. Big knock from Tony Sanchez. Big save for Mark Melancon. Huzzah to all.
But 19-26 doesn't lie, and neither did much of what was witnessed on this night. This team's a mess still waiting to be sorted.
Really, I'd thought nothing but positive stuff back in spring training. This was mostly the same group that galvanized a franchise and its fan base only a year back, that moved grown men and women to tears of joy. They themselves sounded galvanized, too, speaking boldly of taking the next step.
I didn't think the starters could match a masterful 2013, but they've gone into absolute free fall with a 4.60 ERA that's fifth worst in the majors. Pitching wins make a terrible stat, but it's still telling that Gerrit Cole is 4-3 and the rest of the rotation 1-17. The rest of the staff, essentially, is Jimmy Anderson.
I didn't think the relievers could match 2013, as bullpen brilliance seldom knows a sequel, but they've had their own free fall, especially at the back end where Jason Grilli and Melancon have turned four leads into losses, one more than all last season. On Wednesday, Bryan Morris tossed out a two-run lead.
I actually thought they'd hit better. Their .321 on-base percentage is middle of the pack, but a lack of punch and timeliness has their run production — still the only stat that counts — at fifth lowest in the majors.
Who's to blame for it all?
Candidly, I'd start with the 25 it takes to win, and I'd pretty much end there, too.
“We've got to hit better,” Marte said on a day he'd go 3 for 4 with a two-run triple.
“We've got to pitch better,” Melancon said on a day he'd zip 1-2-3 through the ninth.
“We need to play better. That's it,” Hurdle said. “We especially need to pitch better, but we've got to do everything better.”
Heady stuff, I know. But it's a message that probably needs to resonate beyond the clubhouse walls. Because all I hear anymore is about Bob Nutting the bad owner (a dated narrative that went conspicuously silent last year), about payroll not going up (it's on pace to wind up about $12 million higher), about $25 million in new national TV money not being used (the figure is half that in the first year), about A.J. Burnett not being brought back (he blew off $12 million that would have given him the highest salary in team history), about Justin Morneau going on a power tear in Colorado (after he could barely hit a ball out of the infield in two months here) and, way above all, about Polanco.
Look, I wish Polanco were here, too. But to repeat my stance back when this arbitration issue applied to Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Cole, the money involved — at least $15 million if Polanco proves to be a star — is utterly insane for two months of anyone. He'll be here in a couple of weeks.
I also wish management would ship out Rodriguez, who coughed up seven runs and showed disturbing body language in the process. That'll cost $5.4 million, but that's a reasonable price in this setting. It's past time to give a real chance to Brandon Cumpton, who's been curiously cast by this front office as Jeff Karstens II when all the guy's done is pile up outs.
Overall, though, any turnaround has to happen with what you see before you.
Next chance is Edinson Volquez's first pitch Thursday against Washington. And, as Volquez put it when I raised the hot topic, “I love Polanco. But when he gets here, he isn't making my pitches for me.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- FBI searches for suspect in Homestead bank robbery
- Secretary enters conspiracy plea for helping boss hide millions from IRS
- Tomlin: Steelers as healthy as can be expected at this point in season
- McIntyre students hope Buddy Bench is beneficial to all
- Hempfield man fights off intruders
- New North Shore parking garage plan moves forward
- Steelers not giving up on wresting AFC North from Bengals
- Rookie linebacker Chickillo adjusting to role with Steelers
- Colter, Mason lead Duquesne past Milwaukee in OT
- Bowl destination is at stake for Pitt football in regular-season finale
- Starkey: Farewell to NHL fighting