The Pittsburgh Pirates went into their game with the Atlanta Braves on Monday night with the thought that this was a must-win game for the team if they wanted to stay in playoff contention. This also happened to be the night that the Pirates decided to play Pedro Alvarez at first base for the first time in his career.
This, predictably, was a mistake.
The game started off poorly with the Braves taking a 6-0 lead in the first inning, but the Pirates fought back as best they could, eventually losing 7-3. With the game virtually over after one inning, all attention turned to Alvarez for the rest of the game, and anyone hoping to find a positive in his performance was disappointed. Alvarez ended up going 0-for-4 on the night with a strikeout. The more intriguing part of the night was his defense.
First base is a harder position to play than most people think, and Alvarez proved that in this game. He looked awkward at the position and missed some inaccurate throws that a typical first baseman would have caught. He did not make any terrible mistakes in his first game overall, but the bad plate appearances and awkward fielding have to be the last straw for Pittsburgh.
Alvarez’s bat has a lot of potential to do damage, but he has not been the power threat that he was last year. He has not hit a home run in over a month, and while he struggles to get his bat on track, he is jeopardizing the team’s chances of remaining in contention in more ways than one.
Other than just being a bad player when he is in the lineup, Alvarez is forcing a better player out of the lineup in Ike Davis, who has been hitting much better than Alvarez over the past few weeks. While Alvarez is playing at first, he is also opening up his usual spot at third base for even less effective players like Brent Morel, who played Monday.
In essence, the Pirates are replacing Davis with Morel in the lineup by playing Alvarez at first base, and that is a huge downgrade.
The Pirates cannot continue to play Alvarez hoping that his bat will start to heat up. If it was going to, it would have already, and by continuing to wait, the Pirates are taking their better hitters out of the lineup. This game proved that the Pirates need to give up on Alvarez, let him be a bench player for the rest of the year, and decide what to do with him in the offseason.
If they don’t, the Pirates will find themselves watching the playoffs from home in October.