The Pittsburgh Pirates are getting some reinforcements back at the right time.
Caught in a tight race entering the second half of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to ask themselves the very important and relevant question: should they become buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
Currently 48-46, the Pirates sit third place in the National League Central, nine games back from the Chicago Cubs. But, in the Wild Card race, the Buccos are three games back from the second slot, held by the Miami Marlins.
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However, between themselves and the Marlins lie the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets – two other teams that are just a game back from the highly coveted second Wild Card slot.
The aforementioned important question that will ring in most teams’ heads until the August 1 trade deadline does apply to the Pirates as well.
While Pittsburgh does have a few expiring contracts to get off the books if they do sell (Neftali Feliz, David Freese, Matt Joyce, etc.) it would be wise of the front office to keep the contracts and try to make a playoff push.
Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli both returned to the starting lineup July 19, as both have been out with injury (Polanco since July 8 and Cervelli June 10). Two days prior, Pirates ace Gerrit Cole made his first start in over a month. All three players have been solid contributors to Pittsburgh and may be the spark needed to push the Pirates over the hump into the playoff race.
Polanco has been one of the better outfielders in baseball, batting .282 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI. He has been hitting in the middle of the lineup for the Pirates and has been one of the team’s few reliable lefty bats.
Cole has made just 13 starts, posting a 3.11 ERA, 3.02 FIP and 7.5 K/9 ratio. The right-hander has experienced issues allowing batters on base (career-worst 1.37 WHIP and 2.7 BB/9), but has managed to put up a dominant stat line despite these issues.
As for Cervelli, the catcher is hitting .254 with 22 RBI and four stolen bases. He only played 51 games as opposed to Polanco’s 84.
While Cervelli was out, the team relied on Erik Kratz to get the job done. However, he struggled mightily, batting .094 with a home run and four RBI. The team was forced to claim Eric Fryer off waivers and while he did help (.339, 10 RBI in nine games), it was obvious the team was missing a reliable player behind the plate.
As for Polanco’s replacements, the team had a handful of options streaming in and out of the lineup. From Adam Frazier to Joyce and Sean Rodriguez, all three players did solid and have put up solid numbers, but have been nowhere near the 2016 outbreak from Polanco.
Cervelli, Cole, and Polanco both are still getting back in the groove of MLB-play, as Cervelli is 1-for-6 and Polanco 1-for-8. Both have produced a run and RBI each. Cole got hit hard in his first start, allowing five runs – four earned – in four innings. It is no question whether these three are better than their backups and will be a huge difference maker when settled in.
The Pirates rank 14 in runs scored among all teams and 12 in average. Polanco has been a driven force in both categories with Cervelli also contributing in the opportunities he had before injury. Now that both are healthy, the numbers should steadily rise into the top 10 in each category.
As for the pitching side of things, the Pirates rank 16 in ERA and 22 in batting average against, with Cole being one of the few bright spots.
If team team has to address one need at the trade deadline, it’s the starting rotation. With Cole and Jameson Taillon returning, the team still needs another starter (or two) as the backend of the rotation is exceptionally weak.
With a healthy Cervelli, Cole, and Polanco, paired with a few trade deadline acquisitions, the Pittsburgh Pirates may be able to jump over the hump and into the playoffs.