5 players who could help make the Pirates contenders this summer
What you are about to read means next to nothing in the context of the entire baseball season.
Yet, it’s still worth noting the Pirates have endured injuries to several key players — Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Gregory Polanco. Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson, among them — and were still positioned as the second wild card before their game Monday night in Arizona.
Of all the National League teams not leading their division, the Pirates have the second-best record (20-17), 1½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers (24-18).
If you did the math, you see the Pirates had played five fewer games than the Brewers and four fewer than the Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres (22-19) and Atlanta Braves (21-20). That’s a signal there is plenty of time for things to go wrong — or right, if you’re an optimist.
But the following five players offer hope this could be an interesting summer.
1. Josh Bell
Bell took a 12-game hitting streak into Monday’s game, a span in which he hit .408 with four home runs and 15 RBIs, giving him 10 and 34 (fourth in the NL) for the season. He didn’t hit his 10th homer last year until Sept. 8.
His strikeout total isn’t especially impressive (34), but it’s not bad for a power htter. There are 37 NL hitters with more.
Plus, the ball often flies off his bat faster than you can drive a car illegally. A total of 37 have reached more than 100 mph, including his 114.9 mph, 472-foot shot into the Allegheny River last week.
2. Trevor Williams
Striking out batters and avoiding walks are a good measure of a pitcher’s worth, but Williams leads the team in another important category:
Williams is 12th among 72 regular NL starters in innings (501/3). He has walked only nine in eight starts, building a 3.40 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.
Limiting the bullpen’s innings with efforts such as Williams’ might be the best way for the Pirates to stay in the race.
3. Jordan Lyles
Williams has been more consistent, but Lyles leads the team’s starters in ERA (2.09), WHIP (1.09) and victories (three).
No one expected that when he was acquired in the offseason after a WHIP of 1.694 with two teams in 2017 and ERAs between 4.41 and 7.75 over his previous eight seasons.
If you feel the need to criticize general manager Neal Huntington for failing to improve the lineup, that’s fair, but you also have to credit him for Lyles and …
4. Melky Cabrera
At 35 years old, Cabrera is first in batting average (.324) among Pirates with more than 100 at-bats. And it’s just not singles.
He has three home runs, six doubles and is third on the team with a .463 slugging percentage.
Knowing Polanco would miss at least a month of the season, Huntington sensed a need for help and signed Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall.
Chisenhall’s tendency to get injured followed him to Pittsburgh, but the Pirates would be in serious trouble without Cabrera.
5. Felipe Vazquez
Never underestimate the value of a good closer.
Vazquez is 12 for 12 in save opportunities. Only the Padres’ Kirby Yates (16 for 16) has more in the NL.
But Vazquez has done it impressively by throwing more than 100 mph while walking only five and striking out 30 in 182/3 innings.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .