5 Biggest Issues Facing Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014 Stretch Run

5 Biggest Issues Facing Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014 Stretch Run

Pittsburgh Pirates Playoff Celebration
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The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the thick of a playoff race for the second time in two years. Last year, however, the Pirates were at the top of the pack, holding off teams below them. This year they are fighting to sneak into a playoff spot, and they have to overcome a lot to get to October. These are the five biggest issues facing the Pirates in the 2014 stretch run.

5. Injuries

Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen
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5. Injuries

Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have been battling the injury bug for the last few months with key players, such as Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, missing significant time. Currently, Neil Walker is still sore, Charlie Morton has a hip injury and Jordy Mercer has a forearm injury. It is almost impossible for a team to continue to compete without their star players, so the Pirates will have to overcome the injury bug to make a run at the playoffs.

4. The Rotation

Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates
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4. The Rotation

Gerrit Cole Pittsburgh Pirates
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The Pirates have one of the best offenses in all of baseball, but they can't outscore a team every night. Their starting pitchers have given some below average starts since the All-Star break, and staff ace Gerrit Cole has been on the DL since early July. If the Pirates plan on threatening for a playoff spot, they will need to solidify their staff with outside help or get their pitchers to throw more quality starts.

3. The Bullpen

John Axford Pittsburgh Pirates
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3. The Bullpen

John Axford Pittsburgh Pirates
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The Pirates' bullpen has been a problem all season with no players pitching well on a consistent basis except for Tony Watson and Mark Melancon. The Pirates recently added John Axford to help this issue, but he has been inconsistent this year as well. The Pirates can't afford to blow any more leads if they want to continue to contend, so the bullpen will be a issue they will have to deal with down the stretch.

2. The Bench

Pittsburgh Pirates Michael Martinez
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2. The Bench

Pittsburgh Pirates Michael Martinez
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The Pirates' bench has featured below replacement level players this season, including Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix and Brent Morel. These players have taken too many at-bats that have often cost the team the chance to score more runs. The Pirates need to upgrade their bench fast or they will continue to have issues pinch hitting and when the team suffers an injury. This bench will be a big hurdle to the Pirates' playoff hopes.

1. Pedro Alvarez

Pittsburgh Pirates Pedro Alvarez
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1. Pedro Alvarez

Pittsburgh Pirates Pedro Alvarez
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Pedro Alvarez is the biggest hurdle the Pirates have to overcome down the stretch. The team is committed to playing him even though he is a liability offensively and defensively. And while he plays, better players have to watch from the bench. The Pirates are going to continue to play him on a regular basis, and as long as that happens, Pittsburgh will have to overcome his bad play to stay in contention down the stretch run.

Justin Broyles is a Pirates writer for RantSports.com.  Follow him on twitter @Tweets_ByJ, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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