5 Players That Need To Perform For Pittsburgh Pirates To Win NL Central
5 Pittsburgh Pirates That Need To Step Up In Pennant Race
The Pittsburgh Pirates are probably going to make the playoffs. In fact, they have the highest chance according to several projection systems. Most projections I’ve seen have the Pirates’ chances at making the postseason at 98 percent. This article isn’t necessarily about five players that need to step up for the team to make the playoffs, but more focused on that they need to win the National League Central.
The Pirates haven’t had a winning season in over 20 years, and all of the sudden they are contending for a division crown. As someone that wasn’t even born for the last Pirates’ pennant chase, I can assure you there is nothing like it in sports. Gone are the days when the Pirates were the butt of all the jokes.
The Pirates and their front office have built their team the right way, too. They didn’t use the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees approach of building their team via the free agent market and through trades. The Pirates built a deep and talented farm system — possibly the deepest farm system in all of baseball. The Pirates have finally started to draft well. GM Neal Huntington and owner Bob Nutting take a lot of criticism from fans, but Pirates fans need to realize what is happening. Huntington’s five-year plan is working; it just took an extra season. The Pirates finally have an opportunity to make the postseason, and Huntington deserves a lot more credit than he gets. For the Pirates to make a serious run in the postseason, five players in particular have to step up and play to their potential.
Neil Walker is a career .274/.340/.419 hitter, but this season he is only hitting .246/.346/.394 with seven home runs. Walker is taking more walks this season in a lineup that is starved for plate discipline, but the power is lacking, as is the batting average. Getting Walker back to his previous form where he is able to split the gaps with doubles consistently would be huge for the Pirates.
Garrett Jones had a breakout season in 2012 with 27 home runs and 86 RBIs. He hit for a .274/.317/.516 slash line as well. Jones only has 10 home runs this season with a .252/.301/.427 line as Gaby Sanchez’s platoon partner. Sanchez has done his part of the platoon well, crushing lefties. Jones needs to step up and start hitting for power against right-handed pitching if the Pirates want to win the National League Central.
This isn’t necessarily about Wandy Rodriguez’s statistics; it’s just about his health. Some reports have said that he won’t be back this season, while some say that he is ahead of schedule. The Pirates need Rodriguez to come back to replace Charlie Morton in the starting rotation. When Rodriguez got injured, he was 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA. He is about as consistent as you can be as a starting pitcher. He was having a career year in terms of not allowing walks with a 1.72 BB/9. Morton can’t continue to stay in the rotation for the Pirates; his command is nowhere to be seen.
The Pirates’ offense seems to go as Starling Marte goes. When Marte is hot, getting on base in the leadoff spot in the lineup, the Pirates’ offense gets hot. Marte has all the tools to be a great player. His defense has been there all season, but his offense has been off and on. Marte needs to get hot like he was prior to the All-Star break if the Pirates want to make a postseason run. Marte’s first-half slash line of .291/.342/.462 is way better than his .210/.290/.323 line in the second half thus far.
I would love to see Jose Tabata get hot and replace Starling Marte in the leadoff spot, but it seems unlikely because of Marte’s ability to cause havoc on the bases. Tabata is an ideal leadoff hitter, just with less than amazing speed and an average that isn’t pretty. By that, I mean he is able to take a ton of pitches and draw walks. Not only is he able to draw walks and work the count, but he doesn’t strike out much, with a career 14.7 strikeout percentage. If Tabata could get even close to his 2010 .299 batting average, he would be very useful for the Pirates.