The 5 Most Important Pittsburgh Pirates To Making The Playoffs

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The 5 Most Important Pittsburgh Pirates To Making The Playoffs

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As of June 9, the Pittsburgh Pirates are tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the best winning percentage in all of baseball. Just percentage points below a .600 winning percentage, many are predicting massive regression for the second half. While the Pirates have started strong and ultimately faded each of the past two seasons, there are some reasons to believe that this season could be different.

While the offense is mostly the same as past years - though the emergence of Starling Marte has definitely helped - it is fundamental changes in the pitching staff that could allow for sustained success. Previous years' staffs were low on strikeouts and relied on good results on balls in play. This year's staff is actually among MLB's leaders in strikeouts. With this strong pitching, they're in every game and could easily sustain some modicum of success for the remainder of the season.

While nearly every full-time player will need to contribute in some capacity to the Pirates breaking .500 for the first time in 20 years, there are five in particular that must step up. The team has relied on consistent starting pitching, overcome poor plate approaches, and gotten unbelievable late-inning bullpen performances. Those traits are all present in these players. There is a good chance that unforeseen players could have big roles, however. The Pirates could make an acquisition before the July 31 trade deadline, but the best potential game changer could be Gerrit Cole. Though he didn’t crack this list because he may not remain on the major league team, he is certainly an honorable mention for this list.

Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.

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5. SP Wandy Rodriguez

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After leaving his most recent start after just 14 pitches, many in Pittsburgh are worried about Wandy Rodriguez. He is a great veteran innings eater, and he has enjoyed great success in his time with the Pirates. Though there are a myriad of replacement options - including Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeanmar Gomez, and notably Gerrit Cole - the Pirates would like Rodriguez to participate in the stretch run to the playoffs.

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4. Pedro Alvarez

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Pedro Alvarez hit 30 home runs in 2012, and he is on pace for a similar number in 2013. Horribly, however, he is actually striking out at a higher rate. After striking out about 30% of the time in 2012, he is up to almost 35% in 2013. Though this is part of the player Alvarez may always be, if he could cut the strikeout rate down even a little it would make a world of difference. If Alvarez cut his strikeout rate down approximately 10% - which is just 60 times out of 600 at bats - that is 60 more chances to put the ball in play and potentially get a hit.

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3. SP Jeff Locke

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Jeff Locke has enjoyed unbelievable early season success. With an ERA below 2.50, Locke has produced strongly for the Pirates in the early season. However, every single one of his advanced metrics indicates substantial regression is in store. The Pirates can afford some level of regression from Locke, but the question will be how significant the damage is. With a 49-28 K/BB ratio, Locke is highly unlikely to keep his ERA much below three.

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2. RP Jason Grilli

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I wrote a piece about Grilli recently, discussing his significant luck with fly balls. Grilli has been amazing for the Pirates in the early season, but if he endures any sort of regression, it could cost the Pirates wins. He pitches in such high leverage situations that any home runs will be game-altering. The Pirates do not need Grilli to remain perfect, but they'll hope that his mistakes come in situations that allow for error.

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1. OF Andrew McCutchen

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McCutchen has performed at a nearly expected level thus far. He comes at the top of this list as he is the face and leader of this team. If they want to compete for the division or a wild card berth, McCutchen will need to repeat his MVP-caliber performance of 2012. Though the pitching staff has been strong, the Pirates will need to get more production from their offense in the last two-thirds of the season. Though much cannot be expected from some starters, the fans and front office will obviously hope for huge production from McCutchen.

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