5 Players That Need To Stay Healthy for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates Must Stay Healthy
Looking at the second half of the season, there are a number of players the Pittsburgh Pirates can ill afford to lose to injury for any significant amount of time and still hope to make the playoffs. Beyond the mere statistics, there are other unmeasurable and not-so-easily measured abilities any one individual player brings to the table. Experience, leadership and performing well under pressure are a few of these intangibles no record books can properly record. Yes, add to that the most-likely stepdown in statistical performance as a team moves down its depth chart to replace the injured player, and the reasons for losing become pretty obvious.
If the Pirates are to avoid another second-half plunge, the five players listed in the following slides have to stay healthy the rest of the season. Without them, it opens up a potential can of worms in trying to fill their shoes. While every team has injuries it has to deal with, certain ones are more costly than others. Not to say the reserves can't step in and save the day, but the likelihood of that happening is less in baseball than in any of the other major sports that have far less games to play. It's one thing for a backup quarterback to come in and play out of his mind for a game or two, but it's quite another for a reserve catcher to perform as well as the starter for a stretch of 50 games or more. Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies about losing Carlos Ruiz this year.
With this in mind, here's a list of the players the Pirates need to stay healthy.
More than anything, Russell Martin has stabilized the running game. Last season teams ran like wild on the Pirates. They couldn't have thrown out my grandmother running on the beach in army boots. A single, walk or an error was all too often turned into a man-in-scoring-position on second base, and it hurt the team more than can be measured by mere numbers. Nothing is more disheartening than to know you can't stop another team from running on you. Whether it was the pitchers not holding runners on properly or not last season, Martin's presence this year has changed all that. They are not taking the liberties they did with Martin behind the dish. Should Martin go down with an injury, no doubt the flood gates would open once again. Whether Michael McHenry or rookie Tony Sanchez could close them would remain to be seen. On top of his defense, Martin has more than contributed with his bat, and they would certainly miss his timely hitting.
Jason Grilli has been just about as perfect as a closer can be this season, just recently blowing his first opportunity of the season. In saving 26 of 27 chances, it's been lights-out game-over when he enters in the ninth inning. It's very doubtful anyone on the current roster could step in with numbers like Grilli has right now. Suffice to say, the Pirates need him to stay healthy to seriously contend for any kind of playoff spot, and beyond that, to advance deeper in the playoffs. You don't usually go anywhere in the postseason without a solid closer.
If the last two weeks are any indication of what the Pirates can expect of Pedro Alvarez when he finally comes of age, then they can expect a lot. Homering in his last four games to place second in the NL with 19, along with upping his RBI total to 51, Alvarez has driven in 17 runs and homered six times in the last 13 Pirate games. With production like that, he has the ability to carry the team all by himself if the Pirates' pitching continues to hold teams to under three runs most games. Without him though, run production falls dramatically.
Beyond his top of the list stats for second basemen, both offensive and defensive, Neil Walker is a quiet catalyst for the Pirates; when he's not in the lineup, they simply don't win as many games. Nothing jumps off the page when you see his numbers, but his presence and ability to come up big in big situations cannot be measured by mere stats. A herniated disc cost him to miss 27 of the Pirates' final 35 games last year, including missing 16 straight as the Pirates went 4-12 to quickly tumble out of playoff contention, as their record of consecutive losing seasons stretched to 20. They need him healthy to get to the promised land.
Lest we save the best for last, Andrew McCutchen pretty much does it all. Hits, runs fields, hits for power. The two-time All-Star is the complete player and it goes without saying that if you lose your best player for any significant amount of time, it's going to cost you wins.