What are Pirates’ 2nd-half needs as postseason push continues?
You can do the math, but you may not like how it adds up.
The Pittsburgh Pirates will be contenders for a National League postseason berth when they resume their quest Friday at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs.
But claiming one of the five playoff spots won’t be easy. In fact, it may be too much to expect.
How many victories will it take?
A quick history lesson shows the minimum number of victories by a wild-card team since the format expanded was in 2012 — 87 by the Mets and Giants in 2016 and the Rockies the following year.
At 44-45, the Pirates will need to win 43 of their remaining 73 games. That’s 13 games over .500 after playing more than half the season at one under.
There are five teams between the Pirates and the second wild-card position.
So perhaps the NL Central title is a more realistic goal, it makes for a quicker path to the World Series.
But since 2008, the NL Central winner has won at least 90 games.
This season might be an outlier, with only 4 1/2 games separating first place from last. Perhaps 85 will do it, but that’s also difficult to attain.
In any case, the Pirates have some serious work to do between the lines and on the phones as the July 31 trading deadline approaches.
Here’s how they can get there.
1. Better starting pitching
Let’s start with Chris Archer, a trade-deadline acquisition last year who has not performed like a pitcher who cost the Pirates three promising players.
In nearly a full season since August 2018, Archer is 6-9, with a 5.02 ERA and 1.43 WHIP while allowing 28 home runs in 131 innings.
Physically, he has the tools, which he’s displayed while striking out 148 batters.
The time needed to adjust to the National League is over. It’s time for Archer, a great teammate in the clubhouse, to show some greatness on the mound.
And the time is now: Archer is the starting pitcher Friday.
2. Another home run bat
The Pirates lead the National League with a .271 team batting average, but something’s missing.
They are only 26th in the majors with 98 home runs. Only the Giants (88) and Marlins (68) have hit fewer in the National League.
The big bat Gregory Polanco was swinging before his shoulder injury last year would help. After last year’s break, he clubbed 23 extra-base hits, including seven homers, in 44 games.
The Pirates have plenty of outfielders wielding hot bats, but what if one or two of them cool or get hurt? Are the Pirates going to finish with a .271 batting average, which would be their best since hitting .273 in 1982?
Clint Hurdle has a way of finding at-bats for everyone. If Polanco’s shoulder is feeling better by August — he’s hit only one home run in nine games on a rehab assignment in Triple-A Indianapolis — he would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
3. External help
Injuries have hit the Pirates hard, but that’s no excuse.
“My dad told me a long time ago, ‘Life’s not fair,’ “Hurdle said recently. “You have to figure out how to deal with it.”
You can speculate on what the team would be like with full seasons from Jameson Taillon, Keone Kela and Polanco. Even just two of those.
But it doesn’t change the fact that there are holes on the roster.
General manager Neal Huntington has been and will be on the phones almost every day through the end of the month trying to find a deal that makes sense now and in the future.
You’ve read and heard about Madison Bumgarner. Would six or seven innings per game over 10 starts (Archer’s total after the trade last year) be the worth trading away two first-round draft picks? Yes, if it comes with a guaranteed berth in the postseason.
There will be pitchers and position players available at lesser cost.
The pitching staff has been too inconsistent and too reliant on minor-league arms for Huntington to do nothing.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .