After being swept by the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates now sit 10 games out of first place in the National League Central division lead and 9.5 games out of a wild card spot. Chances at making the postseason are slim, but there are still reasons to keep watching the 2017 edition of the Pirates.
August was not kind to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their 12-17 performance over the past 31 days has essentially ended the 2017 season. FanGraphs gives Pittsburgh a 0.2 percent chance at making the postseason.
The nail is close to entering the coffin. The car is about to fall off the cliff. The plug is about to be pulled.
As the NFL and college football seasons near return, fans are simply switching from watching the Pirates to preparing for football season with tailgates and fantasy football. Nonetheless, there is still a month left of Pirates baseball.
Since this is the case, many fans may need motivation to flip the channel to AT&T Sportsnet or buying a ticket to enter PNC Park. Here’s three reasons to keep watching the Pirates for the rest of the season.
Whether you’re a contender or cellar-dweller, it’s great having extra depth in September. For contenders, it means having extra bullpen arms to take the stress of others and extra pinch hitters, pinch runners and defensive replacements.
The Pirates have an abundance of talented options to call up. Triple-A Indianapolis has already clinched its division, but it’s players will trade the minor league playoffs for a spot in the majors.
We’ve already talked about three potentially potent additions to the Pirates lineup once rosters expand from 25 to 40 players on Sept. 1. These three are all worth keeping an eye on, but so too are the surprises. A player that gets called up may not lead the Pirates to a postseason berth, but he may earn himself a look at next season’s 25-man roster.
Francisco Cervelli is currently on his fourth trip to the disabled this season thanks to nagging injuries and insistence on playing through pain. In his absence, Chris Stewart has gotten the bulk of the starting catcher duties and Elias Diaz has acted as the backup catcher. This needs to change in September.
Whether or not Cervelli is fully healthy when he returns, Diaz should be playing much more than he currently is. Diaz only started five games in August while Stewart started 14 games. Cervelli started the other 10 that he was healthy for.
Thus far, Diaz has struggled in terms of pitch-framing over 217.1 innings. This could be the biggest reason that he isn’t playing over Stewart currently.
Diaz also has three throwing errors which are as many as Stewart, but Stewart has caught 105.1 more innings. The best area where Diaz is an upgrade over Stewart this season is with his bat.
It’s abundantly obvious immediately that Cervelli is the best catcher with the bat, but Stewart is far and away the worst.
Diaz shouldn’t play every day in September, but he should be given an opportunity to play regularly, make mistakes and learn from them. He’s been shuffled to and from Indianapolis all season and it’s time for some stability. In June, I petitioned for Diaz to get more of a chance, not only for his personal benefits but to also rest Cervelli.
The best way to keep Cervelli fresh and at his best is to play Diaz more. Split up the starting duties during the week. One plays four days, the other three.
How Diaz performs in September could determine his role with the Pirates in 2017. The catcher position is definitely a storyline to follow for the rest of 2017.
Is this the end?
Andrew McCutchen can become a free agent this offseason if the Pirates decline to exercise his $14.5 million team-option for 2018.
If Pittsburgh doesn’t extend McCutchen, then September is his final month as a Pirate. The five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger could be let go for nothing.
Even with his struggles in August (.222/.300/.283), McCutchen has bounced back from a dismal and forgettable 2016. After many of his statistics slumped to career-lows last season, he’s bounced back near his career-averages.
Historically, it’s worth continuing to watch McCutchen. He’s fourth on the Pirates all-time home run list and two long balls away from being the fourth Pirate to smack 200 home runs.
However, after allowing Juan Nicasio to depart for absolutely nothing at the sake of saving $600,000, it’s possible that the Pirates will choose to not retain McCutchen to save money.
If this is it for McCutchen in black and gold, savor it.
The dog days
Even with a dreadful August, the Pirates are worth following in September. A postseason berth is unlikely, but as recently as 2011 the St. Louis Cardinals overcame an 8.5 game deficit to enter September. The Cardinals would capture the N.L. Wild Card and win the World Series. The Pirates’ deficit is bigger, but the miraculous has happened before.
That said, it’s most likely that the Pittsburgh Pirates will miss a second consecutive postseason. There are still plenty of storylines to follow and games to watch, so it isn’t quite time to stop following the Pirates.
Photo by Joy Frank-Collins