By: Andrew McDermott
Tell me if you’ve heard this story before: the Pirates are off to a slow start to kick off another season. This time it’s 2017, and the offense and defense has been struggling to support the fantastic pitching Gerrit Cole and Company has provided them. Cole, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon and Chad Kuhl have given the Pirates the opportunity to stay in games early on this season. However, the bats and defense haven’t been able to do the same.
The main theme of the season so far has been injuries to the Pirates infield. With Adam Frazier and David Freese on the disabled list, Pirates fans have been blessed to see Phil Gosselin get steady playing time this season. I’ll just get this out of the way really quick: Phil Gosselin doesn’t deserve to be on any major league roster. Watching Gosselin attempt to hit a baseball is the equivalent of watching Jersey Shore reruns: sure, it may have been funny the first few times, but my god is it cringe-worthy. As much as I would love to see his .138 batting average on the roster, I think it’s time to send him on his merry way. Maybe the Washington Wild Things can give him a spot on their roster.
Speaking of horrid batting averages, John Jaso has been quite the hitting machine this season. Jaso, like Gosselin, is also under the infamous Mendoza line this season with a .143 average. Newsflash: small-ball baseball only works if, you know, they can get on base. Couple those two averages with Alen Hanson, who’s batting .176 in limited starts, and you have the easy decision of who to DFA when Freese and Frazier comeback. (Hint: goodbye Gosselin and Hanson.)
The Starling Marte suspension became an even bigger problem for the Pirates when David Freese hit the disabled list. With Freese on the disabled list, Josh Harrison has been the primary third baseman. Before the Freese injury, Harrison and Frazier platooned in the outfield spot left open by Marte. Now that Harrison is manning the hot corner, this meant that Jaso has seen some time in right field. While Jose Osuna has done a decent job filling in as the primary right fielder, the days Pirates fans get to see Jaso stumble around in right field is quite a sight to behold. I’d rather see Bacon Burt in front of the Clemente Wall, at least then when he misjudges a fly ball it will be funny and not downright sad.
Another problem for the Pirates offensively is the slow starts from Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. With the Marte suspension, it was up to these two to pick up the slack and contribute more offensively. Unfortunately, they haven’t. McCutchen is hitting .218, while Polanco has been struggling at the plate with a .250 average. Any Pirates fan knows that this is far from what these two can contribute to the team. If the Pirates truly want to be contenders, these are the two bats that really need to start stepping it up.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Buccos. Josh Harrison is starting to look like the Josh Harrison that Neal Huntington gave the big extension to. He’s thrived in the leadoff spot, hitting .305 with 5 home runs on the year. Before Frazier hit the DL, he was hitting .306, although his defense was lacking. Finally, Freese was hitting .321 before being shelved. And perhaps everyone’s favorite story, Gift Ngoepe has been a pleasant surprise at the plate, in very limited action hitting .292 and being defensively solid in the infield. Josh Bell has been doing Josh Bell things at the plate, and looks way more comfortable at first base. The pitching has been fantastic to start the year, and could be even better once Tyler Glasnow starts to figure it out.
I’ve been critical of the Pirates so far this season, mainly because of the lack of depth that has reared its ugly head early on this season. Losing Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce in the offseason has proven to actually be a problem this year. When Phil Gosselin is seeing time on your team, someone deserves the blame for that. But when you factor in how well Freese and Frazier were playing before their injuries, it definitely softens the blow a little bit when it comes to the team’s problems at the plate. The main problem offensively is McCutchen and Polanco not producing at the plate. A team is only as good as its star players are, we saw that last year when McCutchen struggled. No matter which way you spin it, the Pirates will only go as far as those two will take them. The pitching has been great so far this year, it’s time for the outfield to step it up. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.