Biertempfel: More good than bad happened for Pirates in first month
We're past the one-month mark of the Pirates' season. Maybe you missed the calendar flip because Root Sports flipped over to a Penguins game. Or perhaps you had your eyes closed during that torturous series loss against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Anyway, April is gone faster than a fat, belt-high fastball to Pedro Alvarez. What have we learned about these Pirates? Glad you asked.
• They don't quit. The Pirates lost the first game in each of their past five series, yet rebounded to win four of those sets. Even in the satanic pinball machine that is Miller Park, the Pirates banged a few balls off the wall to hang with the Brewers for a while.
• This is Pittsburgh's best on-field product in 20 years. That's what folks in the industry are saying. A scout told me that during spring training, then reiterated it a few days ago. The roster looks like a big league roster and isn't populated by guys who are learning on the job and washed-up vets. There is legit power and speed, improved baserunning and defense, and bona fide arms.
•Andrew McCutchen won't have to do it alone. Last year, it seemed he was the only one hitting the ball in April, May and June. This year ... well, he's not really hitting yet. In mid-April, he went through an 0-for-17 drought that was the longest of his career.
You know a guy's struggling when he gets four hits and boosts his average by 30 points. That's what happened Tuesday, when McCutchen had three singles and a solo homer. Yet, McCutchen's batting woes didn't stop the offense from hitting its stride. Starling Marte is showing that a free swinger can be a good leadoff batter. Russell Martin got it going. The Gaby Sanchez-Garrett Jones platoon looks like it'll work.
• Neal Huntington knows how to build a bullpen. Give the GM his due. One of his hallmarks is a strong bullpen, and he's done it again this year. The Phillies look like idiots for letting Jason Grilli walk away. Any team would love to have Tony Watson. Justin Wilson is starting to blossom.
And, hey, Mark Melancon! Huntington certainly picked the right time to deal Joel Hanrahan, who already has spent two weeks on the disabled list and no longer has a lock on the closer's job in Boston.
• The starting pitchers had better pick it up — soon. Pitch some darn innings, fellas. On the final day of April, manager Clint Hurdle already was trying to ration the outings by Grilli, Melancon and Watson so their arms don't fall off by the All-Star break. “We've red-lined our bullpen,” Hurdle said.
Once they join the team, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton don't necessarily have to pitch like Cy Young every night. But they must consistently work into the sixth inning and beyond.
• The stream of talent from the minors isn't a geyser. Maybe someday. But not now.
The rotation is made up mostly of the products of other clubs' farm systems. Liriano and Morton, same deal. Jeff Locke, acquired in a trade and mostly developed by the Pirates, is still trying to establish himself.
Five years of over-slot bonuses and high draft picks gave us ... Phil Irwin, a 21st-rounder who became the first pitcher of the Huntington era to start a game for the Pirates. A spot start. And a brief one. Meh.
When Neil Walker tore up his hand in St. Louis, neither Ivan De Jesus, Jordy Mercer nor Josh Harrison proved to be a must-have callup. Instead, the Pirates kept their bench short-handed for a week while Brandon Inge and John McDonald filled in at second base.
Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are coming. Luis Heredia is coming. Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson are coming, too. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Until they get here — and stay, and produce — I'll remain skeptical.
• They have a chance ... Nobody has stepped up yet to run away with the NL Central. The Reds still seem like the team most likely to do it, but they've had a bumpy opening month. The Pirates were good and lucky in April, and rode it toward the top of the standings. That's not enough to start planning the parade, but it's a seed for hope.
• ... but if not, heads will roll. A sub-.500 record was disappointing the past two years. This season, it would be inexcusable and would warrant a purge from president Frank Coonelly on down to the scouts and minor league coaches. Not everyone would have to go — Hurdle would survive, I think — but most of them would be out.
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.
- Cole struggles as Brewers continue Miller mastery over Pirates
- No bitter brew for Mercer over reduced playing time after injury
- Gameday: Pirates at Brewers, Sept. 2, 2015
- Two wild-card format hurting Pirates in short term
- Pirates notebook: 6 September call-ups include first-timer Diaz
- Gameday: Pirates at Brewers, Sept. 1, 2015
- Happ’s strong start, Ramirez’s homer pace Pirates past Rockies
- Pirates turn nifty double play in 9th, edge Marlins
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray