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Bucco Blasts: Pirates’ Successful Home Stand

If you would have told me the Pittsburgh Pirates would go 6-3 on this home stand, their longest of the season, I would’ve signed up for it right away. Had you told me it would happen in the fashion that it did, I would’ve laughed in your face. The Pirates’ successful home stand wrapped up with a series win over the Mets. They swept the Cardinals last weekend. Andrew McCutchen even got career hit no. 2,000 on the final day of the home stand. The middle series, however, got the best of them.

The Oakland Athletics put up a fight and took two of three from the Buccos. Had it not been for a comeback in game one, the Pirates would’ve been swept. Oakland repaid the favor, however, by sweeping the Mikwaukee Brewers over the weekend and giving the Pirates a chance to put a one-game cushion between them and the Brew Crew. Who knew the Athletics were ready to become the hottest team in baseball?

You’ll never guess where the Pirates are headed this weekend. That’s right, Milwaukee. First, they’re on their way to Wrigley for a series against the Cubbies after an off-day on Monday. Things are about to heat up for the Pirates as we enter the back-half of June.

With Monday upon us again, “Bucco Blasts” is here to take a deeper dive into the week that was the Pirates’ successful home stand. Without further ado, let’s dive in, shall we?

Pirates’ Successful Home Stand

Hayes’ Offensive Breakout

As June started, I called Ke’Bryan Hayes out in this same forum for his lack of offensive production. A few weeks later, he’s beginning to tear the cover off the ball. I won’t divulge into the information that I passed along to him from my couch. Just know, I am the good luck charm.

In all seriousness, Hayes has implemented a bit of a toe tap to help with his load. The approach has led to one of the hottest months at the plate in his MLB career.

Through Sunday, Hayes is batting .486 with a 1.27o OPS in the month of June. He’s hit two home runs and driven in nine runners. Ironically, Hayes has yet to draw a walk in June. However, his hot bat was a huge part of the Pirates’ successful home stand.

Over the course of Hayes’ career, he’s been an elite glove. In fact, he rivals Nolan Arenado for best third baseman in the entire league. He makes a cool defensive play look routine at least once a night. Upon his call-up during the COVID-shortened 60-game season, Hayes made a case for Rookie-of-the-Year at the plate. He just hasn’t been able to tap back into that potential.

As a corner infielder, Hayes just doesn’t possess the power that you’d prefer from that position. He’s got to become an OBP-machine that hits to all field to make up for that lack of power. He’s doing that through the first 12 days of June but it can’t be a two-week flash in the pan.

He doesn’t have to hit .400 the rest of the year but the Pirates could use something more than his .261 average. Even his season average sits at that exact mark at the current moment. He’s got to keep it up.

Paging Mr. Reynolds…

I tried this with Hayes a few weeks back so let’s see if I can work my magic on Bryan Reynolds. Since signing his extension with the Pirates, Reynolds has gone a bit cold. I don’t think anyone in Pittsburgh is panicking after a month but it’s fair to say that Reynolds is officially a streaky player. However, when he gets hot, he’ll look like one of the best bargains in baseball.

This past week, Reynolds hit .304 which is good to see as his average had been dipping. The past 30 days, Reynolds’ batting average is a pedestrian .237. He’s hitting .280 for the season which, on the surface, isn’t a bad number. However, the Pirates need him to be a better player at the plate than he’s currently showing.

Listen, no one is lumping Reynolds into the same category as a Mike Trout or an Aaron Judge. But, to the Pirates, Reynolds is a Judge or a Trout-like player. He’s the cornerstone of the franchise and he’s proven he can be a better hitter than he is showing. The Pirates are paying the 28-year old to be their star player and his current post-contract signing cold streak isn’t good enough for them.

I’m not at all concerned. It is only a matter of time before Reynolds hits that inevitable hot streak he has every year. But with just seven home runs on the year, the power numbers need to be on the uptick here in the next few weeks. The NL Central race is only going to tighten up as we head deeper into the summer.

Props to 43-year old Hill

Upon hearing of the Pirates’ signing of Rich Hill, I was quite surprised and disappointed. The 43-year old pitcher throws a high 80’s fastball and relies heavily on location and wicked movement on his breaking pitches to get outs. I didn’t think an up-start Pirates team would benefit from having that in their rotation. It turns out I was dead wrong.

Hill hasn’t been a savior by any means. However, his 4.23 ERA is not too shabby for someone who I thought had a chance of being DFA’d before August. Instead, Hill has been part of a pitching resurgence for the Buccos and he’s also been a wealth of knowledge for the staff as a whole.

At 43, Hill’s 72 1/3 innings rank second on the team behind Mitch Keller, the de facto ace. That’s pretty insane when you think about it. While the velocity is clearly not there anymore, Hill is providing quality innings for a team that certainly won’t shy away from them.

To take things a step further, Hill is a guy a team in the playoff hunt would want to add to their roster. As it stands on the morning of June 12th, the Pirates own a playoff spot. They’ve got that kind of guy on the roster already in Hill. Hill is going to have his good days and his bad. At his age, there is no doubt he’s going to get hit around a bit.

The key for Hill is to keep locating his pitches. Johan Oviedo has already thrown a career-high in innings. Vince Velasquez just went down for the year. Hill has to be a calming presence and keep eating innings for the Buccos.

News and Notes clean up

Typically this space is called “What’s ahead?” but I laid that in the opening monologue. The Pirates did make a few moves this week so I’ll go ahead and update those instead.

  • Velazquez hit the injured list after having a surgery to clean up his elbow. He will not pitch again this season after previously hoping to do so.
  • Roansy Contreras is officially headed to the bullpen General Manager Ben Cherington clarified this afternoon on his weekly Sunday radio hit. The Pirates will reportedly call-up 28-year old Osvaldo Bido to take his place in the rotation for the short term. Bido will likely make his MLB debut during the Cubs series. Bido is not on the 40-man roster so a corresponding move will have to be made.
  • Outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba is back on the major league roster after the Pirates designated RHP Chase De Jong for assignment.
  • Last but not least, RHP Max Kranick threw a few side sessions at PNC Park this week. Kranick is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he had just over a year ago. The 25-year old is close to returning to throwing sim games and facing live batters.

 

Photo Credit- Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Players Mentioned- Andrew McCutchen, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Nolan Arenado, Bryan Reynolds, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Rich Hill, Mitch Keller, Johan Oviedo, Vince Velasquez, Roansy Contreras, Osvaldo Bido, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Chase De Jong, Max Kranick

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