Pittsburgh Pirates: Mid-Season Report Card
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Record: 56-37 (1.0 GB)
Biggest Surprise of First Half: While the entire Pittsburgh Pirates team has been one giant surprise at how well they have played, one individual who stands out as the biggest surprise is none other than Jeff Locke. Locke started the year in the Pirates rotation as the 5th starter. With how this season has been for him, Locke is easily the unofficial ace of the staff. Locke was selected to the all-star team and personally, I finally want to see him pitch live. Jeff Locke is currently 8-2 with an outstanding 2.15 ERA. Locke has the 2nd best ERA in the league, only trailing Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Simply outstanding stuff for a kid who barely made the rotation. Jason Grilli has also been a massive surprise as the closer for the Pirates. After two solid full seasons of Joel Hanrahan, Grilli took over as the full time closer this season for the first time in his career. Has he ever responded well. Grilli has saved 28 of the 29 opportunities given to him, with a 2.04 ERA. Grilli was named to the NL all-star team and definitely deserves it. He will be joining Jeff Locke, Andrew McCutchen, and Pedro Alvarez at the all-star game.
Biggest Disappointment of First Half: For a team who is 1 game out of first place in the NL Central, there isn`t a whole lot of disappointments to this point. If I had to pick a player who has been disappointing, I would pick Clint Barmes, the opening day shortstop for Pittsburgh. Barmes is a very experienced player who plays some good defense but his bat has been non-existent since coming to Pittsburgh a year and a half ago. Barmes has only played in 62 games of the 91 games the Pirates have played. The way Barmes has played this season, its hard to imagine he once hit 23 home runs for the Colorado Rockies in 2009.
Team MVP: There are a few candidates for team MVP, such as Jason Grilli, Jeff Locke, Andrew McCutchen, and Starling Marte, but Pedro Alvarez is easily the Pirates first half team MVP. We all saw what kind of power Alvarez has the past few seasons, but it is on full effect this season. Alvarez currently has 24 home runs with 2 games to play before the all-star break. He hit 30 all last season. Alvarez also has a decent .253 batting average. He still strikes out a lot, but his all-star year has covered up for all the strikeouts. The massive display of power through the first half of the season has earned him a spot in the Home Run Derby on Monday night. It also seems whenever the Pirates need a big hit, it finally is not all on the shoulders of Andrew McCutchen. Alvarez has stepped up and delivered in clutch situations, as has Starling Marte, and Russell Martin. Alvarez has simply been a horse this season.
Prospect Ready to Make an Impact: Who else? Gerrit Cole, who was called up about a month ago is ready to lead the Pirates rotation into the playoffs. Cole is currently 4-2 with a 3.68 ERA. He throws gas, but surprisingly, does not strike out as many hitters as one would think with the stuff he has at his disposal. He relies a lot on his defense and that keeps them on their toes. It was a magical debut for Cole, who immediately intensified more interest in the Pirates around the city of Pittsburgh.
Contender or Pretender: Contender. The Pirates are more certainly contenders based off of the way they have played in the first half of the season. To be able to keep up with the MLB’s model franchise, the St. Louis Cardinals and stay 4 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, what`s not to like for the Steel City. Even more intriguing is the fact that they still have some key pieces missing due to injury. Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald are both on the DL with injuries, and both of whom are big pieces to the rotation. It`s the Pirates depth that has paid off and allowed to keep going. They have been able to replace the two with the likes of Cole, Charlie Morton, and Francisco Liriano. The rotation has been very good, even without A.J. Burnett for a few turns during the year. Want to hear something even scarier? Despite being an all-star, batting .304 with 47 RBI, and 18 stolen bases, Andrew McCutchen has not even truly caught fire yet, something the Pirates haven’t needed due to the emergence of Alvarez, and Marte. There is only room for improvements and guys to keep playing well.
Overall Team Analysis: About the only thing that Pirates fans, and knowledgeable MLB fans are worried about the Pirates at this point is history. The past two seasons the Pirates have been in the hunt and playing well going into the all-star break. Post all-star break the past two years, has been disastrous. If the Pirates avoid a second half meltdown, they will make the playoffs. With how well this team has been playing this year, I have not much else to say than the Pirates are for real. Almost everyone is finally playing to expectations, some even have room to continue to rise to their ceilings, but for the most part, I think the Pirates are playoff bound. Once in the post-season, keep an eye on them. They may surprise you, and end up in the Fall Classic. The Pirates are for real.