MLB Team Report - Pittsburgh Pirates - INSIDE PITCH
After a 10-16 April, the Pirates have bounced back to be in the thick of both the National League Central and wild-card races.
The Pirates are 49-46 and in fourth place in the division race but just 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. They are 2 1/2 games behind in the wild-card standings.
The Pirates have gone 31-20 since falling a season-low eight games below .500 on May 20.
A big reason for the Pirates' turnaround and why they feel they can return to the postseason after ending a 21-year playoff drought last season is improved pitching. The Pirates have a 3.46 ERA since June 1 after posting a 4.20 mark in May and a 3.65 mark in April.
The Pirates had to rely heavily on their organizational pitching depth as right-handers Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez are the only members of the starting rotation that began the season who have not either spent time on the disabled list or been demoted to the minor leagues. Left-hander Jeff Locke and right-hander Vance Worley have both bolstered the rotation since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis.
The Pirates also have a reshuffled bullpen after trading closer Jason Grilli to the Los Angeles Angels for right-hander Ernesto Frieri last month. Set-up man Mark Melancon was promoted to closer but the Pirates will look to upgrade their relief corps before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline and even into August.
The Pirates filled two lineup holes in the first half by trading for New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis in April and calling top prospect Gregory Polanco up from Triple-A Indianapolis in June to play right field. Thus, it is doubtful Pittsburgh will look add any more offense before the trade deadline.
"We're always looking to improve," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "That being said, I don't think we have any glaring holes that absolutely need to be addressed. We're happy with the club we have now."
MLB Team Report - Pittsburgh Pirates - NOTES, QUOTES
STREAK: Lost one
FIRST-HALF MVP: Andrew McCutchen was the National League Most Valuable Player a year ago when he helped the Pirates break their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons, the longest run in major North American professional team sports history. The center fielder is playing even better this season and has a chance to repeat as MVP. He is hitting .323 with 17 home runs and 61 RBIs while going 15-for-15 in stolen-base attempts in 93 games.
FIRST-HALF GRADE: B -- If nothing else, the Pirates proved that last year's successful season was not a fluke. GM Neal Huntington acted decisively in April to add a first baseman, Ike Davis, after journeyman Travis Ishikawa was the Opening Day starter at the position. Manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage artfully juggled a rotation that lost LHP Francisco Liriano and RHP Gerrit Cole to injuries at various times and got such poor performances from Wandy Rodriguez that the veteran lefty was released.
PIVOTAL POST-BREAK PLAYER: LHP Francisco Liriano led the Pirates with 16 wins last season, then was the winning pitcher against the Cincinnati Reds in the NL wild-card game, the franchise's first postseason game since 1992. However, he is 1-7 with a 4.72 ERA in 15 starts this season, and he allowed six walks in four innings in the July 13 loss at Cincinnati after being activated from the disabled list before the game. If Liriano can get straightened out and pitch as he did in 2013, he would give the Pirates a top-of-the-rotation starter and bolster their postseason chances.
BUY OR SELL: The Pirates will be buyers, though it seems unlikely they will make a major move. GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle are happy, for the most part, with their current roster, though the Pirates would consider adding bullpen depth and perhaps a bench bat. Pittsburgh made a move in late July, sending RHP Jason Grilli to the Los Angeles Angels for RHP Ernesto Frieri in a swap of closer. Frieri is off to a poor start with the Pirates (13.50 ERA through seven appearances).
INJURY STATUS: The Pirates avoided any crippling injuries so far this season, though RHP Gerrit Cole is on the disabled list for the second time in the last six weeks, this time with a strained right lat muscle behind his shoulder. While the Pirates say the injury isn't serious, they will likely give the 23-year-old extra time to heal and rest. INF Clint Barmes (strained left groin) might be able to return by early August.
TOP PROSPECT: The Pirates already called up their best prospect when they summoned RF Gregory Polanco. One possibility for the rotation or bullpen later this season is RHP Nick Kingham, a 22-year-old who is 3-1 with a 1.62 ERA in six starts for Triple-A Indianapolis. In mid-June, he was promoted from Double-A Altoona, where he went 1-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 12 starts. Opponents are hitting .238 against Kingham overall this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We dug ourselves a hole early in the season and we're digging out of it. We've just got to keep on digging." -- Manager Clint Hurdle.
MLB Team Report - Pittsburgh Pirates - ROSTER REPORT
--RHP Gerrit Cole (tight right lat) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 5. He threw on flat ground July 13. He is expected to throw on flat ground July 15 and 16.
--INF Clint Barmes (strained left groin) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 30. He is expected to miss at least a month.
RHP Charlie Morton
RHP Edinson Volquez
LHP Jeff Locke
RHP Vance Worley
RHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Mark Melancon (closer)
LHP Tony Watson
RHP Ernesto Frieri
LHP Justin Wilson
RHP Jeanmar Gomez
RHP Jared Hughes
RHP Stolmy Pimentel
1B Ike Davis
2B Neil Walker
SS Jordy Mercer
3B Pedro Alvarez
INF Gaby Sanchez
INF Michael Martinez
LF Starling Marte (bereavement list)
CF Andrew McCutchen
RF Gregory Polanco
OF/INF Josh Harrison
OF Travis Snider