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Statistically speaking: Pirates, Brewers possess strengths up the middle

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By David Golebiewski
Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

The Pirates' recent seven-game losing streak dealt a severe blow to their playoff odds, which according to Fangraphs dwindled from 64.4 percent on August 13 to just 26.4 percent entering play Thursday. Now, the Pirates must stop the bleeding against the first-place Brewers, who have taken 10 of 13 games between the teams this year.

For the Pirates to leave Miller Park with a prayer of playing October baseball, their middle-of-the-diamond stars will have to outshine Milwaukee's. Both the Pirates and the Brewers are exceptionally strong at premium defensive positions that most clubs struggle to fill.

The Pirates' catchers, shortstops, second basemen and center fielders have combined to produce more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than any other National League club. WAR quantifies a player's offensive, defensive and base running worth compared to a Triple-A-type talent. Milwaukee is a close second among Senior Circuit teams.

Team Up the Middle WAR

Angels 14.2

Twins 12.7

Pirates 11.8

Brewers 11.5

Royals 11.0

MLB Avg. 8.1

Center fielders Andrew McCutchen (4.6 WAR) and Carlos Gomez (4.8 WAR) lead their respective squads in WAR, though they couldn't be more different at the plate. The ultra-patient McCutchen is drawing walks more than twice as often (13.7 percent of his plate appearances) as Gomez (6.5 percent), who routinely knocks his own batting helmet off while taking mighty cuts.

Catchers Russell Martin (3.5) and Jonathan Lucroy (4.7), meanwhile, are virtually twins. They're both saving lots of runs thanks to their pitch-framing skills: 11.2 compared to an average backstop for Martin, according to StatCorner, and 18.5 for Lucroy.

The Pirates' and Brewers' strength up the middle helps compensate for a lack of production at some corner spots. The Pirates' third basemen rank 17th among MLB clubs in WAR (1.8), and their first basemen rank 23rd (0.1). Milwaukee has also struggled to get value at first base, placing 19th in team WAR (1.4).

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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