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Pirates

Three things we learned from Pirates since trade deadline

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, 5:42 p.m.
Starling Marte’s batting average has dropped 15 points — from .292 to .277 — this month.
Starling Marte’s batting average has dropped 15 points — from .292 to .277 — this month.
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco flies out during the sixth inning against the Cardinals Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco flies out during the sixth inning against the Cardinals Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, at PNC Park.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have faced so many season-defining stretches this season that there’s nothing wrong with throwing another on the fire.

Fire? Good choice of words. The Pirates may have torched their playoff hopes by merely treading water (win one, lose one) in recent series against the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. They also lost two of three — at home — to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Worse, the Mets and Giants are not good teams.

With 43 games to play, the Pirates (61-58) are five games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who hold the second wild-card berth in the National League.

Please, let’s forget the Central Division championship. Eight games is too much ground to make up on the Cubs in 43 games, especially when you consider these metrics:

If the Cubs, inexplicably and in some fans’ fantasy world, lost 23 of their final 45, they’d still have 90 victories. To beat that, the Pirates would have to finish 30-13, a .698 winning percentage. That’s better than their impressive 21-10 stretch that ended with the loss in San Francisco on Sunday.

And the Cubs won’t lose more than they win over the final seven weeks of the season, so put that thought out of your head.

The Pirates play nine games in the next nine days, starting Tuesday in Minnesota. Then, the Cubs visit PNC Park for four and the Atlanta Braves — a wild-card contender — come in for three. Anything less than 7-2 won’t do.

Here are three trends that have emerged in the past two weeks since the trading deadline that made the Pirates an unlikely playoff qualifier:

What’s wrong with Starling Marte?

Probably nothing, but — admit it — your hopes were raised last month when he hit six home runs and drove in 16 runs in a 14-game stretch. Since then, he has one homer and three RBIs, and his batting average has fallen from .292 to .277.

Marte is the Pirates’ most gifted player — he’s one of the league’s best center fielders — but they need his bat just as desperately as his glove.

2. Trading for Chris Archer and Keone Kela were the right moves, but …

The Pirates are 2-0 in Archer’s two starts, but that’s the point. He has been with the team for 10 games, but for eight of them, he was just another guy on the bench. The team is only 5-5 in that time.

It’s not his fault. He’s a starting pitcher and they work only every fifth day. What is troubling, though, are the six walks and two home runs he’s surrendered in 9 1/3 innings.

Kela has been just short of brilliant, pitching five innings in five games and allowing no runs and only four base runners (three hits and one walk), with six strikeouts.

But the Pirates are only 3-2 when he pitches, losing 2-1 and 4-3 decisions when the bats and gloves failed.

The Pirates need more than what two significant trades could offer.

3. Gregory Polanco’s power fizzle

The Pirates right fielder has done a remarkable job pulling his batting average off the floor — from .200 to .242 in less than two months — but it’s not enough.

He leads the Pirates in home runs (19), but he hasn’t hit one in August. No one expected him to keep up his productive July when he hit eight, a pace of 48 for the season. But the Pirates lost three games this month by one- or two-run deficits. He was 0 for 11 in those games.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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