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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: 2017 Pirates were total paradox

| Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, 8:15 p.m.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen celebrates with Adam Frazier after hitting his first career grand slam during the second inning against the Orioles Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen celebrates with Adam Frazier after hitting his first career grand slam during the second inning against the Orioles Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at PNC Park.

And so begins the final weekend of play for the 2017 Pittsburgh Paradox.

Also known as the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates.

A team that got so bad, it had to spend the better part of 162 games trying to answer the question: “How do we stop losing when our best is also our worst?”

How were the Pirates ever going to get better when some of the best players, position groups, and highlights of 2017 were also the lowlights?

How were they ever going to get any traction?

“Traction is a good word,” manager Clint Hurdle said before the team left for its season-ending series in Washington.

“I think that was a common theme that we did talk about internally,” he said. “Everyone strives for consistency. Everyone strives for dependability. And we got it in different places. And we are looking for more of it.”

Like the word “paradox” itself, there really is no answer to getting better when some of the perceived best parts of your team go through six months hurting you as much as they do helping you. Consider these points:

Andrew McCutchen

The Good — He leads the team in hits, home runs, OPS, RBIs and batting average. He was one of the best hitters in baseball in June and July with an OPS above 1.10 in each month. His home runs and RBI totals are at or near single-season career highs. And his defense got better. “It's the best I've seen him play center field since I've been here,” Hurdle gushed.

The Bad — In April, May and August, he was awful. His batting averages for those three months were .244/.206/.222. Not surprisingly, the Pirates were a combined 11 games under .500 in those three months. And, while up from last year, his WAR, OPS, OBP, batting average and walks are down based on his annual production in his career.

The starting rotation

The Good — The back end of the rotation improved as the season went along. Trevor Williams began July with a 4.82 ERA. He posted ERAs of 3.86, 3.93 and 2.38 in July, August and September. Also, on June 25, Chad Kuhl was 2-4 with a 5.58 ERA. He had completed six innings twice. Since then, he has won six starts, his ERA is down to 4.35 and he has finished six full innings seven times. Oh, and Ivan Nova was one of the best pitchers in baseball through mid-June.

The Bad — Gerrit Cole is posting career highs in ERA, losses, walks, hits, home runs and runs allowed. His 31 homers allowed are the second most in the National League. Shortly after posting a 2.08 ERA in his first month, Jameson Taillon needed surgery when doctors detected a threat of testicular cancer. Despite a valiant return, he never found his form and wound up 8-7 with a 4.62 ERA. The Tyler Glasnow experiment was a disaster. Oh, and since mid-June, Ivan Nova has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball.

“I believe we've put ourselves in a very good position to have a strong rotation moving forward,” Hurdle said Wednesday. “We've got what we believe is an ace (in Cole). A No. 2 in Nova. We've got Taillon, who is three. Figure out four and five between (Kuhl and Williams).”

Moving forward? Maybe. But, unfortunately for this year, Hurdle only appears to be right in that assessment.

Josh Harrison

The Good — He made his second All-Star Game. He achieved career highs for home runs (16) and walks (28). And he provided the team's highlight of the year when he broke up Rich Hill's no-hitter in the 10th with a walk-off home run at PNC Park on Aug. 23.

The Bad — He had more strikeouts than ever (90) in his major league career. He broke his hand and missed the last month of the season. And he may get traded during the winter.

The closer:

The Good — Felipe Rivero converted 20 of 22 save opportunities after taking over the closer's role in early June.

The Bad — Rivero didn't take it over until early June. Tony Watson had it before then. And he blew 7 of 17 save chances before being shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sean Rodriguez

The Good — He gave everyone on the North Shore goose bumps with his walk-off home run in his comeback game Aug. 6 for the feel-good moment of the season.

The Bad — No one has felt good watching him hit since then. He has 12 hits and 31 strikeouts in 81 at-bats since.

If you are a Pirate fan, you probably felt like you couldn't figure out 2017 for six whole months.

You're not alone. The whole team was right there with you.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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