Thus far, this season has not gone as planned for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After snapping their 22-season playoff drought last season, things have not gone as smoothly in 2014. The pitching production has dropped off slightly, but the real problem still is their hitting. The Pirates have only one hitter, reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting at least .300 this season. It is about time they got him some help.
As currently situated, opposing pitchers rarely need to throw anything to McCutchen to give him a chance to hurt them. With a high strikeout player in Pedro Alvarez behind him, teams are willing to take their chances with the power hitting lefty. McCutchen is currently on pace for 127 walks, which would set a career high in the category and shatter his previous high of 89 in 2011.
They traded for Ike Davis earlier in the season, and he has hit well overall for the Pirates. He is hitting .274 since coming to Pittsburgh in 73 at-bats, but he’s not producing runs. He has only seven RBIs, four of which came on a grand slam in his third game of the season.
Another problem is the Pirates get virtually no production from their corner outfield and shortstop positions. Starling Marte has struggled this season with strikeouts, forcing him to move down in the batting order.
The other corner outfield platoon of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata is also underwhelming. The two have combined to hit .238 on the season, with only nine extra base hits and 15 walks mostly at the top of the order. That type of production will not cut it, especially when leading off, as they are enabling teams to pitch around their best hitter in McCutchen.
Some lineup changes could help get this offense going. Getting Russell Martin back playing will help balance out the lineup. He is a moveable piece who can hit atop the order as a table setter or in the middle as a run producer. If he is back in the lineup, they can then move Neil Walker down in the order to be more of a run producer.
Walker has been the Pirates’ most productive hitter this season, leading the team with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. Having him behind McCutchen would give McCutchen an opportunity to see more pitches as teams would be more wary of Walker with runners on than Alvarez.
The Pirates also have an ace in the hole in the minor leagues in Gregory Polanco. Polanco has been tearing up Triple-A, hitting with a slash line of .389/.453/.623 in 41 games with 38 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
He would slide in perfectly at the top of the Pirates’ order right in front of McCutchen. Hitting second in the order would also give him the best opportunity to see pitches to hit. With opposing pitchers not wanting the Pirates’ best hitter to beat them, they will attack Polanco and see what the rookie has.
Polanco will most likely not be up until June because of reasons outside of the playing field, but once he is the Pirates’ offense should start picking up. If they are able to just keep battling and not fall much more behind in the standings until then, a summer surge to get back in the race will occur shortly after.