By: Noah Wright
The month of May for the Pirates was very up and down. There were a handful of positives to go with a handful of negatives. They ended the month at .500, but how they managed to stay afloat is fairly impressive speaking of all the injuries they had, plus all the inconsistent performance. However there is some light heading into summer as they continue their season.
The line-up was one of the positives of the month. Josh Bell was absolutely scorching hot for the entire month. Bell had a .390/.443/.797 batting line, along with 12 home runs in the month of May. He had 12 home runs all of 2018. Another name that stepped up big time was Rookie Of The Year candidate Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds batted a strong .322/.396/.522 batting line in May, and played some plus left field defense. Starling Marte was another plus outfield option for the Bucs during the month. Marte started the year off cold but it could have been chalked up due to injury. Once he came off the IL on April 30th, Marte went on a tear. He batted a decent .292/.338/.454 between 4/30 to 5/31. Third baseman Colin Moran stepped up his performance in the second half of May. From May 15th onward, he had a .321/.345/.518 batting line. Another youngster was a very valuable asset for the month of May as well. Kevin Newman had done very well in May. He may have even played himself into more regular playing time after the strong .351/.407/.486 line he put up in the month. Really, the only place the Pirates haven’t received a whole lot of good production from is catching, but Elias Diaz is coming off a strong start to the month of June, and he had a .310/.342 AVG/OBP in May. Both of which are pretty good offensive production for a catcher. The Pirates were scoring about 5 runs per game. That isn’t bad, and their offense and defense definitely isn’t bad.
Now where the offense and defense wasn’t that bad, the pitching was pretty bad. Aside from a few standouts, the starting rotation, along with the bullpen were very lackluster, and that might be an understatement. Jameson Taillon was placed on the IL at the beginning of May, and isn’t expected to be activated until late June or later. Another one of their top starters, Trevor Williams, who had a 3.33 ERA/FIP in 54 innings, was placed in the IL in late May. Chris Archer started the month on the IL, and was fairly ineffective when he was activated. However, he did show much improvement in his last start of May. After having a great start to the season with an ERA below 2 in April. Joe Musgrove was very inconsistent during May. The spots left behind by Williams and Taillon have been filled with a bunch of players. The Bucs have been using a revolving door of Nick Kingham, Steven Brault, Mitch Keller, and an opener. Both Kingham and Brault have been awful. Keller showed a great amount of promise in his debut, but was shipped back to AAA right after. The Pirates tried the opener but abandoned it after not even given an honest try at using it. Instead of using an effective relief pitcher, they used a mix of Michael Feliz, and Montana DeRapu. Of the starting 5, Jordan Lyles has surprisingly been the only one who has been both healthy and effective. Currently, he has a 3.09 ERA, 3.33 FIP, and 1.102 WHIP through 55 and a third innings.
The bullpen has been just as bad as the rotation. Keone Kela was placed on the IL wayback at the beginning of the month, and is expected to return sometime in early-to-mid June. Richard Rodriguez has had significant struggles with the longball all season, which is very strange considering he gave up just 5 homers in nearly 70 innings (69 and a third). It could be from his change in repertoire since he stopped using his curveball as much, and uses his fast ball a good amount more. Rookie Nick Burdi had shown much promise to start the year, but suffered what looked to be a horrific injury. While it wasn’t Tommy John, he was placed on the 60-day IL. There have truthfully only been 3 good pitchers in the Pirates bullpen. Kyle Crick, Francisco Liriano and Felipe Vazquez. Crick currently has a 1.93 ERA and 3.13 FIP, and he hasn’t given up a home run this year through 18 and two thirds innings. However, his strikeout rate is down a whole strikeout from last season. Francisco Liriano has been the steal of the year. He’s only on a minor league deal, but that hasn’t stopped him from pitching to a 1.33 ERA, 3.22 FIP, and giving up just 2 long balls across 27 innings. Vazquez is back as the Pirates dominant closer, and he had given up just 4 earned runs all of April and May. Vazquez has a 2.16 ERA, 2.35 FIP, and 1.120 WHIP through 25 innings. Although, he has given up home runs at a 1.1 per 9 rate, which is slightly worrying, but he’s still been lights out aside from his first blown save which came in June 1st.
In short, this team definitely has the potential to be a good team. I truly believe if Taillon, and Williams were healthy, Keone Kela and Richard Rodriguez were both effective and healthy, along with the breakouts of Josh Bell and Jordan Lyles, this team could have been a contender for the NL Central. However, that’s been a bunch of what if’s and could’ve would’ve should’ve. However, not all hope is lost. They’re only 4 games out of the division, and 2.5 games out of a wild card. But this team cannot keep marching out Brault and Kingham. They’re completely ineffective. Kingham has an ERA just under 9(!), and Brault has an ERA nearing 6. Plus the bullpen needs some help as well. Currently, there are a handful of mop up guys like Clay Holmes, Geoff Hartleib, Rookie Davis, and Alex McRae on the 25 man active roster. They shouldn’t have more than 1. This team needs a pitching boost, and fast. While it doesn’t have to be the biggest and most sought after name on the market, they need to acquire at least 1 starter and 1 relief pitcher, and there’s no reason they can’t. There are plenty of rental, or low cost but effective pitchers out on the market currently, and I hope to see them at least acquire a Tanner Roark or Cory Gearrin type pitcher in the coming weeks.