PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Wrapping up 10 consecutive games in the division at 5-5 is not what a team trying to win its division needs.
Or is it?
In the case of the NL Central, perhaps we should be satisfied with the Pirates' .500 stretch against the Cubs, Brewers, & Cardinals. Perhaps too, we could be frustrated that with a fit bullpen, it would have been an 8-2 mark highlighted by a sweep in St. Louis. That would put the Pirates just 2 game back of 1st place and at .500, 38-38.
In fact, if not for the shambles of a bullpen they've kept mostly intact around Felipe Rivero, they'd have the 2nd best record in baseball in the month of June and be sitting in a tie for the division lead.
The Pirates, despite what some may tell you, are not a bad baseball team. They are a pretty good ball club with a bad bullpen problem.
With that said, don't be surprised that 5 of the 7 members of that bullpen sit in the bottom third of this week's rankings:
OUT: Francisco Cervelli (returned to the 7-day concussion disabled list)
IN: Jacob Stallings (called up from Indianapolis)
25) Jacob Stallings (recalled from Indy) – God love him, he's seen more work pushing little 3-month old Emmitt around town in his stroller than he has behind the plate.
24) Tony Watson (-1) – Watson's now taken to blowing leads nowhere near save situations to go with his touchdown ERA over the last 30 days. OK, we're rounding up from 5.79, but does it matter? The one-time closer is now the human equivalent of hooking up a fire truck to a kerosene pump.
23) Max Moroff (+1) – With 3 plate appearances this week, how could we not bump Mighty Max up a spot for managing to NOT strikeout in one of them?
23) Tony Watson (-7) – At this rate, he'll be the pitching coach for the West Virginia Black Bears in 2022. Watson's stuff – which was never the lights out kind of back-of-the-'pen repertoire we're used to seeing in 9th inning guys – has regressed to the point that it's hard to see him working his way back into high-leverage situations in time to push his value back into the black before the trade deadline. Maybe he can find his way back into a 7th or 8th inning role eventually, but it feels like that's a long way off.
22) Chris Stewart (no change) – For some inexplicable reason, Stewie was given back-to-back starts against the Cardinals this past weekend and was in the lineup 3 out of 4 days. He went 1-for-9 on the week.
21) Jhan Marinez (+3) – Over the past month, Marinez has, at least statistically, been the 2nd best member of the bullpen, with a 2.70 ERA/1.02 WHIP/.233 BAA. Most of the 16 2/3 innings he pitched were either low leverage and/or mop-up duty, so we have yet to see what happens to Marinez when, and if, he gets bigger opportunities. His one on Sunday night didn't go well though, as a 2-RBI Paul DeJong single got past a pulled-in Jordy Mercer, allowing St. Louis to double a 2-run lead.
20) Wade LeBlanc (-1) – He's finally remembered that he's Wade LeBlanc. Just 2 outings this week, only an inning each, and it was enough to put 3 baserunners on and meltdown juuust enough that Clint Hurdle felt somehow compelled to heat up Rivero while up by SIX RUNS with TWO OUTS in the BOTTOM OF THE NINTH. Well done, Frenchy. I didn't even get to mention your 9.82 ERA in June.
19) Daniel Hudson (-2) – Just when we thought Hudson was improving, he walks in to the bottom of the 7th in Milwaukee Wednesday night and gives up a game-winning, 2-run HR to Domingo Santana. Two days later, he gave up a go ahead, opposite field homer to noted power bat Paul DeJong. It should be worth noting that the 1.80 ERA Hudson acquired in 15 innings from May 16–June 20, was earned in no small part by the 11 IP he threw in low leverage.
17) Chad Kuhl (+3) – Kuhl's two outings this week were nothing to write home about. He continues to get by on pure power and whichever off-speed pitch happens to be working on a given night. A more aggressive organization would push him to the bullpen, where the arm is needed, and bring up lefty Steven Brault to take Kuhl's spot in the rotation. Given Neal Huntington's conservative approach and Kuhl's raw velocity, he'll most likely get another handful of opportunities..
16) Jose Osuna (+1) – Osuna got just 5 plate appearances this week and only 1 hit, but he continues to make the most of his opportunities, as he mashed a 3-run homer Tuesday night that served as the cherry on top of a 6-run Top of the 1st sundae in Milwaukee. His power continues to play well also, as he's still 2nd on the team in slugging, behind only some guy named McCutchen.
15) John Jaso (+1) – 3 of Jaso's 4 hits this week went for extra bases, including his game-winning HR in the top of the 9th Friday night in St. Louis. He's hitting .273/.385/.576/.960 off the bench, and 4 of his 5 home runs have come either in the 7th inning or later and/or in tie ballgames. Who knew 'clutch' had a look, and that it was dreads and flip-flops?
14) Gregory Polanco (-1) – More weird routes in the outfield, more 'meh' at the plate. If ever a guy were screaming to be dropped out of the 3-spot, it's Polanco. The only question would be, who are you going to put there?
13) Trevor Williams (no change) – A really nice start by Williams went by the wayside Wednesday night when Watson as brought in with 2 in scoring position and nobody out. While Watson left the heavy lead-blowing work for Hudson after him, they combined to allow each of the two runners Williams had left on base to score. He continues to work efficiently, as his 1.32 WHIP in the month of June is 2nd to only Ivan Nova among Bucco starters.
12) Adam Frazier (+1) – A .296/.345/.444/.789 week means Frazier is coming back around to being himself. Having McCutchen and Jordy Mercer in the bottom half of the order means more RBI opportunities as well, as he's now tied with Mercer for the 3rd spot on the team in RBIs, with 28.
T-10) David Freese (+1) – Freese continues to bounce back from what was a very difficult post-DL run. He had just 4 hits this week, but added 4 walks, which is why he's back to leading the team in OBP this season, currently tied at .369 with Josh Harrison.
T-10) Elias Diaz (+1) – A slow week at the plate for Diaz (just 3-for-16) was exacerbated by a lack of playing time. That came despite Hurdle saying in the middle of the week that Diaz should be catching 4 times a week.
9) Juan Nicasio (-5) – Despite all of the slip-ups at the back end of the bullpen, Nicasio had, statistically speaking, the worst week in the Pirates' bullpen with a 13.50 ERA/3.00 WHIP/.222 BAA split. That said, he still has a track record of success earlier this season, so as of now he continues to profile as the right hand man – literally and figuratively – to Rivero at the back end of ball games..
8) Jordy Mercer (-1) – When you've spent the better part of June leading the league in hitting for the month, a .240 week can be shrugged off, especially when you hit what would hold up as the game-winning homer to secure a series victory in St. Louis.
7) Jameson Taillon (+1) – Take away the Jose Martinez 2-run HR in 2nd inning Friday night, and Taillon pitched a nearly-perfect 6 innings, striking out 7, including the side in the 4th. It's still incredible to think of where he was six short weeks ago.
6) Josh Bell (no change) – Bell's power is impressive, however he's spent the last 7-10 days in another down cycle of swinging and missing too much, with his average down to .233 and now leading the team in strikeouts with 56. More patience from Bell is the key to his continued growth, and we've seen it doesn't slow down his home run rate at all.
5) Josh Harrison (no change) – Of Harrison's 5 hits this week, 4 went for extra bases, matching the number of times he was hit by a pitch this week. Don't write off his OBP growth this season (.369 is a career high, 22 points better than his bench mark 2014 mark of .347, and almost 50 points higher than his career .323 OBP) on just the MLB-leading HBP, though: His 6.3% walk rate is a full 2 points higher than any other season in his career.
4) Gerrit Cole (+4) – The stability Cole can provide this team, and its entire pitching staff, when he's 'on' is fantastic. 10 Ks and just 12 baserunners in 13 innings this week was impressive, but the 15 runs of support behind his 2 starts is exactly what was lacking from his teammates back in April as well.
3) Ivan Nova (-2) – It's hard to complain about Nova in any way, but the 11 hits he gave up in 7 innings Thursday are a reminder that he is human, and that he still has a difficult time in hitters' parks more often than not. That said, as his ERA has -*GASP!*- climbed north of 3.00, he still deserves All-Star consideration.
2) Andrew McCutchen (+1) – Of the 2nd best month of McCutchen's career, this past week was statistically the best, as he went 9-for-23, and perhaps most impressively, only struck out 3 times in 29 plate appearances. His 2-run homer Monday night also served as one half of a classic Cutch & Cole show, as those two again proved that if they want to throw a team on their backs in tandem, they can carry it pretty far?
1) Felipe Rivero (+1) – For all the "the Pirates would be this close to 1st place if not for their bullpen" arguments, it's probably worth wondering how many more games they would have lost without Felipe Rivero around at all. Getting Rivero – and a prospect – for Mark Melancon at the deadline last year, despite what some lunatics will tell you, still stands as one of Huntington's great fleecings. As it stands, he's the best left handed reliever in the National League, but if the Pirates to continue to ride him until the wheels fall off – or perhaps more accurately, until his arm falls off – they will be in trouble sooner rather than later.
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