The Pittsburgh Pirates are three games out of first place in the NL Central, sitting in fourth place.  With about a quarter of the season left, it is looking like the the race for the division will come down to the wire.  What can the Pirates do to increase their chances?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have 47 games left in the season.

34 of those games come against division opponents.

The Pirates control their own destiny.  On the other hand, this team is still one game under .500 with a record of 57-58.  They have been average all season.  With a run differential of -29, one could argue that they’re actually a below average team.  Here are three things the Pirates desperately need to improve upon to have a legitimate chance at the division.

Candle lit offense

There’s no power.  The Pittsburgh Pirates rank second to last in the National League in home runs with 110.  They rank second to last in slugging percentage at .392.  Even their batting average is near the bottom of the league at 12th.  The team is hitting .247.

The batting average has improved though.  Since the All-star break, the Pirates are fifth in the NL with a .268 average.  Still, they aren’t hitting the long ball.  In today’s game, extra base hits are more than important.  Some players need to step up.

Andrew McCutchen and Josh Bell are doing their part with 23 and 20 home runs respectively.  Players like Francisco Cervelli, Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison frankly do not have much pop.  The Pirates will need larger contributions from Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte.  The two have a combined 12 home runs in a 405 total plate appearances.  Polanco is slugging .415 with an OPS+ of 91.  Marte is slugging .331 with an OPS+ of 70.  Both are well below average.

These two have their excuses.  Marte obviously was suspended half of the year and is still finding his swing.  Polanco has had hot stretches but lingering injuries have derailed his groove.  Simply put, the Pirates need these two to provide more thump down the stretch.  They are key components to the offense.

Nova can’t be over

Pirate starters have faired pretty well this season.  The starting rotation ranks seventh in the NL with an ERA of 4.43.  Somewhat surprisingly, the bullpen ranks fifth in the NL with an ERA of 3.81.

Right now, the starting rotation may be hitting their stride.  Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl have been hot lately.  Gerrit Cole is the clear ace of the staff.  Jameson Taillon has struggled mightily lately but bounced back in his last start.  Ivan Nova though has not been good.

Nova’s career high in innings pitched is 170.1 in 2012.  So far this year, Nova has pitched 149 innings.  He win undoubtedly set a new career high.  Is this workload too much?  Since the beginning of July, Nova has an ERA of 5.93 in seven starts.  He has given up 11 home runs in that span and batters are hitting .315/.352/.589 off of him.

Velocity is not an issue.  Nova’s fastball has been sitting around 93 mph all season. Command has been the issue.  Nova is just getting slammed lately.  He’s catching too much of the plate.  He needs to find a way to get back to his early season self when he was getting weaker contact.  Nova doesn’t need to be an ace.  He needs to give the team a chance to win.

Bench replacement

The addition of Sean Rodriguez has been nice so far as he’s hit two home runs.  With him, Adam Frazier, Jose Osuna, and Chris Stewart, the bench does not look to shabby.  John Jaso is another story.

Frazier is hitting over .400 since the All-star break.  He provides a nice contact bat off the bench.  Osuna is slugging .466 this season so he provides a touch of power.  Stewart is a typical back up catcher so it is okay that he really can’t hit.  The Pirates need more from Jaso.  Since the beginning of July, Jaso has five hits in 51 at bats.  He’s added nine walks in that span but an .098 batting average is beyond awful.

At this point into the season, I’m not sure what the Pirates are holding on to.  Jaso is in the final year of his contract.  He’s not making much money.  He is hitting .214/.308/.400 with an OPS+ of 85 on the season.  His outfield play is atrocious.  Now would be the perfect for an upgrade.  A left handed bat with a little pop would be perfect.  Someone like Curtis Granderson or even Neil Walker could do the trick.  Jaso just isn’t getting the job done.

Photo credit – Daniel Decker Photography

 

Nathan Hursh

Nathan is a graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in journalism. He has been a lifelong Pirates fans and loves watching baseball. Along with baseball, Nathan also has a passion for watching football and basketball. When he is not sitting on his couch indulging in sports, Nathan likes to be active outside. Along with Twitter, he can also be found on Instagram at nathan_hursh.