The Pittsburgh Pirates of 2016 have not had the first half fans were craving out of Spring Training this year. While they have a record of 46-43 and sit mired in third place in the NL Central, 7.5 games out first, things haven’t been as bad as they could have been for the Bucs. The starting rotation has been hampered by injuries and inconsistencies but these troubles have given rise to promising debuts from two young arms. The offense has had its troubles, but they seemed to catch a little bit of fire at the end of the first half. The Pirates are still competitive and are trending upward.
Pirates 2016 Midseason Report
Of all the storylines to come out of 2016 thus far, the most surprising has to be Andrew McCutchen’s slow start. The perennial All-Star was expected to lead the team in its fight against the rising Chicago Cubs, but instead he’s off to the worst start of his career. A career .298 hitter, Cutch is slashing an underwhelming .247/.319/.426. His batting average is down fifty-one points from his career mark, his OBP is down sixty-nine points, and his slugging percentage is down seventy-three points.
Andrew gave fans a glimmer of hope at the end of the first half. He collected six hits, two of which were long balls, in thirteen at bats against Chicago in the final series before the All-Star break. His thirty-eight RBI have certainly helped the team, but these aren’t the numbers fans are used to seeing come out of the Bucs centerfielder. Perhaps we’ll see more of what Andrew showed us against the Cubs in the second half, and hopefully the former MVP can return to his previous form.
While McCutchen has not been his normal self this season, the real disappointment for the Pirates has been the injury bug that has bounced around the clubhouse. Pittsburgh currently has six players on the disabled list and another three sidelined by minor injuries. The team is waiting until after the All-Star break to assess these smaller tweaks, but this string of injuries has hampered the club’s ability to achieve consistency.
The starting rotation for the second half won’t be announced for a few days because the team is waiting to see how Gerrit Cole is feeling. He’s currently recovering from a triceps injury. Cole began his rehab with Triple-A Indianapolis and will hopefully be available to start against the Washington Nationals to open the second half. Jameson Taillon is recovering from shoulder fatigue after making an excellent impression with his first career starts at the Major League level.
Matt Joyce, Gregory Polanco, and Josh Harrison, all three big-time offensive contributors, are sidelined with their own ailments. Joyce is dealing with tightness in his left quad, Polanco is bothered by his hamstring, and Harrison has felt discomfort in his foot. The Pirates offense will need them to make swift recoveries, especially if McCutchen can’t regain his form.
Francisco Cervelli broke his hand last month and has been missed dearly. The Pirates have not had much production out of their catchers since his injury. Cervelli should begin rehabbing soon. He will start out by catching partial games and work his way up from there. He recorded his second hitting session on July 9 and will look to return in the second half.
Possibly one of the most impactful injuries was, oddly enough, Ryan Vogelsong being struck in the face by a pitch. He suffered multiple fractures and has had a long recovery. Ryan is finally ready to begin his rehab, though the Pirates aren’t sure how many outings he will need to get back up to speed. His absence from the relief corps has hurt the team, as he was in the midst of a steady season out of the bullpen. His 3.74 ERA and veteran presence will be gladly welcomed back into PNC Park.
Midseason Team MVP
Two candidates emerged for first-half MVP. Mark Melancon has been phenomenal this year. The All-Star closer has been steady and true, quietly dominating the ninth inning as expected. His twenty-seven saves, 1.23 ERA, and o.98 WHIP earned him yet another All-Star nod. Mark’s presence at the back end of the Pirates bullpen has helped the team notch wins they certainly would not have captured without him.
However, Starling Marte is having a career-defining season, making him the midseason MVP. He earned his way onto the All-Star roster with sparkling defensive play and a white hot bat. He leads the team in stolen bases (30), batting average (.316), and hits (99), and is tied for the team lead in triples (4).
Marte has been the consistent bat for the Pirates and has helped keep the team in contention in the NL Central standings. The 27-year-old has steadily improved each year since his debut in 2012, and he’s put it all together in 2016. Starling has proven he is a top notch talent, and he absolutely deserves his All-Star status.
What to Watch for in the Second Half
Given where the Pirates stand at the halfway mark, the team is in an excellent position to return to the playoffs in October. Though it seems like it will take a great to deal to overcome the powerhouse that is the Chicago Cubs, it remains within the realm of possibility. If the Bucs can’t overcome the Cubs, however, they can absolutely still win a Wild Card berth.
The biggest thing to watch for is the players coming back from injuries. Harrison, Polanco, and Joyce will more than likely be ready to resume contributing in big ways. Cole will likely step back into his spot atop the rotation and bring his dominance back to the diamond.
Taillon should prove an exciting young arm as he pioneers through the rest of his first season in MLB. Vogelsong will hopefully bring another reliable arm back to the bullpen, and Cervelli will return to the starting catcher’s role. Barring any setbacks, the Pirates will be healthy once again in the near future.
The biggest story to follow coming back from break though will be how McCutchen responds to his dismal first half. If Cutch can bring his bat back to life and provide the incredible defense that he’s known for, there is no reason the Pirates can’t be in the thick of this year’s chase for the World Series come October.