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Pirates Battle for Second Consecutive Playoff Appearance

By: Ryan Meier

 

       The Pittsburgh Pirates are fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive, and earn a second consecutive spot in the National League. The Pirates have a long standing history of disappointing their fans, however, last season they were able to reach the playoffs and reignite a highly passionate fan base.

       The Pirates are currently sitting at second place in the National League Wild Card race, with a record of 79-70 after Sunday’s contest with the Chicago Cubs. The Bucs emerged victorious from their series with the Cubs, accumulating two wins and a loss. Their next two home series feature an interleague matchup versus the Boston Red Sox, and an NL Central rivalry series with the Milwaukee Brewers.

       The Pirates made some key offseason moves, and some crucial mid-season roster upgrades to the team. Their first major move was trading with the New York Mets to acquire first baseman Ike Davis. Davis immediately assumed the duties of first baseman for the Pirates and has received the majority of the starts.

       In June, they recalled both pitcher Jeff Locke and right fielder Gregory Polanco, who proved to play major roles this season.  Locke, who was an All-Star in 2013, started off the season with the Pirates AAA team in Indianapolis. Since then, he has a 7-5 record with an ERA of 3.66 in 19 starts.

       Polanco, who has been a highly touted prospect in the Pirate’s farm system for several years, made his anticipated Major League debut on June 10th.  He has seen his struggles and successes in his first year, but as of September 14th is hitting .241 with 6 homeruns and 32 RBIs.  His ability to run the bases and hit for contact has strengthened the lineup. His playmaking ability in the outfield has also significantly improved the Pirates defense.

       The pitching staff is being led by an emerging Edinson Volquez, who has in 12 wins and a 3.27 ERA.  Tony Watson has been the anchor of the Pirates bullpen, which is known as the “Shark Tank” in Pittsburgh.  He has accumulated 10 wins over 70 innings in relief, with 7 saves and an ERA of 1.54. 

       No other starter on the staff has an ERA under 4, which has been a major factor in keeping the Pirates close in ball games this season. The Pirates have suffered key injuries this season, including Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole; two of the team’s best pitchers during the 2013 season. Both pitchers have bounced back from injuries and rocky starts to bolster the pitching rotation. 

       The offense this season has been led by Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker and Starling Marte.  In addition, Russel Martin, catcher, and Jordy Mercer have also been two heavy contributors to the lineup.  Walker has hit a career high 20 homeruns this season, and Marte is hitting .285 with 11 homeruns, 55 RBI, and 26 stolen bases.

       The most pleasant surprise for the Pirates this season is not only that Andrew McCutchen is repeating his 2013 MVP season statistics, but that Josh Harrison has turned into an All-Star caliber player.  Harrison went from having 22 hits in the 2013 season to having 145 hits with 11 of those hits being homeruns.  “J-Hay”, as he is affectionately referred to by fans, is leading the Buccos in batting average and hitting (.317) in the leadoff spot in the lineup.  He has been listed on many possible NL MVP lists, considering his major turn-around from the past season. 

       McCutchen is on pace to almost match his statistics from a season ago, however missing almost a month due to injury has limited his performance.  However, he has hit 23 homeruns, 35 doubles, and 5 triples while hitting .311.  Cutch has been the major run producer for the Pirates, and has driven in 75 runs.  Both McCutchen and Harrison have also been playing outstanding defense, producing highlight reel plays throughout this entire season.

       With only four series remaining in the season, the Pirates have their sights set on reaching the post season once again with “Buctober” right around the corner.  If they can play the way that they have been recently, they have a good chance to once again reach the post season and make a run for the World Series ring. 

 

 

 

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