The Pittsburgh Pirates will begin the second half of the season with a 42-47 record, seven games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

Given the way they have played for most of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a fortunate spot that they still have a puncher’s chance at winning the division.

The All-Star break probably came at a bad time as the Bucs ended the first half of the season winning five of six. But to get back into things, the Pirates need a lot to go right for them.

Here’s a look at five keys for this Pirates team to get back into contention the second half of the season.

Defense

There’s no other way to put it than the Pirates defense has let them down quite often this season, especially early in the season.

The Bucs have committed 59 errors in 89 games. To put in in perspective, only six teams in the majors have made more miscues than the Pirates. Josh Harrison and David Freese lead the team with seven errors each, while Adam Frazier and Josh Bell have each committed six.

As a team, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ .983 fielding percentage ranks 24th in all of baseball.

To get back in contention the second half of the season, the Pirates are going to have to clean things up in the field

Gregory Polanco & Starling Marte

Combined, the PIttsburgh Pirates have gotten a .254/.312/.430 line from two guys who some felt were on their way to becoming major league stars.

Marte and Polanco have combined for just 10 homers and 31 RBI through the Pirates first 89 games. Marte’s suspension was a big blow to this team, but Polanco didn’t do much to pick up the slack.

The second half of the season, both young outfielders need to come close to living up to the hype for the Bucs to sneak back into the division race.

Cutch continuing to be Cutch

Andrew McCutchen has been carrying the Pittsburgh Pirates offense since Memorial Day and he needs to keep doing so.

The All-Star break comes at a terrible time for McCutchen, who may have never been hotter with the bat at any point in his career.

Since seeing his average drop to .200 on May 23, McCutchen has put up a ridiculous .404/.494/.726 line with 11 homers and 30 RBI. At that point in May, no one in the world would have given McCutchen any shot of raising his season batting average close to .300 by the All-Star break, but here he is hitting .294 on the season.

Cutch needs help in the Pirates lineup, but he needs to keep doing what he does best.

If he continues to hit at this level, the Pirates still have a chance to contend for the division.

Starting pitching must hold up

It’s as obvious as it gets, but the Pirates starters must give the team consistent good outings the rest of the way.

Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova have to be a legit top three in the rotation almost every time out.

Chad Kuhl has thrown better his last couple of outings and I have liked what I have seen from Trevor Williams most times out. But the youngsters need to be consistent the rest of the way as well. If the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation only gives them chances to win two out of every five nights, they should wave the white flag now.

Pirates’ starting pitchers have combined to post a 4.37 ERA, which ranks sixth in the National League and 13th overall. You would hope they can consistently shave close to a run off that ERA the rest of the way. So far this month that has been the case as Pirates starters have posted a 3.12 ERA in 49.1 innings pitched.

They also must get better length from the starters. To date they have logged 494 innings, which is just the 16th highest total in baseball.

As a result, the bullpen has already thrown 306.2 innings. That’s the tenth most in the game.

Bullpen must find some stability

Speaking of the bullpen, they have to be much better the rest of the way.

The numbers don’t look overly terrible. They have the fourth best bullpen ERA in the NL at 3.93.

But most of that is due to Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio.

Rivero has allowed just four earned runs in 47.1 innings of work and Nicasio just 11 in 39.2. Take those two out of the equations and the rest of the Pirates relievers have combined for a ballooned 4.87 ERA on the season.

That’s not going to cut it.

Rivero and Nicasio can be a solid combo in the eighth and ninth innings, but someone has to get them the ball consistently. On the season the Bucs have blown 13 of 31 save opportunities. That leads to a putrid 58.06 save percentage. A good sign can be taken from the month of July though as the Bucs pen has pitched to a 2.31 ERA in their last 31.2 innings pitched.

To contend the rest of the way, there can be no more blown leads.

Photo credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Matt Shetler

Matt is a life long Pirates fan with both a newspaper and radio background. Before coming to Pirates Breakdown he was most recently the co-owner and lead columnist for Pittsburgh Sporting News. He has been a credentialed writer for all four major sports and also has written for plenty of other sports and fantasy sports websites.