Let’s take a look at how the Pirates’ hitters have been doing over the past 30 days and see who’s hot and not:
C Francisco Cervelli — Cervelli has been quietly fantastic all year and these past 30 days have been no exception. His line of .333/.384/.526, 151 wRC+ makes everyone forget that the Pirates traded Justin Wilson for him and the Pirates control his rights for one more season at below-market arbitration rates.
1B Pedro Alvarez — Perpetual whipping boy (including this author) Pedro Alvarez, has been strong over the last 30 calendar days. His line of .280/.333/.520, 139 wRC+ includes 5 homers, albeit with a 33.3% strikeout rate.
2B Neil Walker — Walker has had a so-so month with a .238/.262/.485 triple slash for a 102 wRC+ that is just a shade above league average over the past 30 days. But he does have 5 dingers, for what it’s worth.
SS Jung-ho Kang — Kang’s last month has vaulted him squarely into the national conversation for NL Rookie of The Year. His line of .333/.389/.576 for an eye-popping 171 wRC+ (71% better than average). And he has the same 5 homers that each Pirate seems to have hit in the past month.
3B Aramis Ramirez — Ramirez hasn’t been here for 30 days, but his line as strictly a Pirate is a dismal .217/.236/.304. The Pirates like his veteran leadership, but it’s not hard to see him going to the bench when Harrison and/or Mercer return.
LF Starling Marte — Marte has superficially had a good last 30 days with a .299/.367/.379 line, but his power has vanished with zero homers during that time frame. Perhaps his chronic hand issues are sapping his power stroke more than is being discussed.
CF Andrew McCutchen — The NL is so loaded with amazing MVP candidates this year that McCutchen may not even finish in the top five. But it sure looks like he’s trying to put on a strong finishing kick to at least finish in the top three for the fourth straight year. His line of .293/.411/.554, 165 wRC+ is virtually identical to what he did in the entire season of 2014 (.314/.410/.542, 169 wRC+), which shows how ridiculous he has been these past three years. His 6 HR helps to balance out Marte power drain.
RF Gregory Polanco — Steve and I have been on opposite ends of Polanco’s development spectrum. I’ve been preaching patience, while Steve has been quietly skeptical. No matter how you’ve felt about him yourself, his past 30 days have been fantastic with a line of .333/.395/.537, 161 wRC+ with a great power-speed blend of 4 HR and 3 SB.
Let’s check out the same 30 days for the starting rotation and setup/closer, too:
Gerrit Cole — Over five starts, Cole is only 1-3, but his peripherals suggest that he’s still on top of his game. A 9.48 K/9 and 1.72 BB/9 rate are in line with his season stats. The ERA/FIP mix of 3.16/2.28 suggest that he’s been let down by his defense and some poor clustering of hits at inopportune times.
Francisco Liriano — In 4 starts, Liriano is 3-0 with a stellar 10.42 K/9 rate, albeit with a slightly high 3.92 BB/9. His ERA/FIP of 4.35/2.87 also suggests that the team defense has failed him at times.
Charlie Morton — Chaz has taken the bump for 6 starts and has a 1-2 record. A strong K rate of 8.10 per 9 and good 2.95 BB/9 rate makes it seem like Morton should have good ERA/FIP numbers, but they’re 4.66/4.04. With the FIP lower, it shows that (you guessed it) the defense has let him down. Factor in the always-present Charlie Morton Meltdown Inning and there you go.
Jeff Locke — Much-maligned starter Jeff Locke has been sub-par in the last 30 days, as there’s no sugarcoating a 5.79 ERA/4.36 FIP, even though…wait for it…it appears the defense is not doing him any favors.
Tony Watson — Watson has not been his typical dominant self during this pre-stated timeframe. Over 11 appearances, his strikeouts are down (6.97 per 9) but he’s also not walking anyone (0.87 per 9). His ERA is high for him at 3.68, but his FIP of 2.43 show that…well, you know.
Mark Melancon — Melancon has come back to earth these past 30 days. In 12 appearances he’s recorded eight saves, but his strikeout rate of 5.25 per 9 and higher-than-typical walk rate of 3.00 per 9 have been part of the reason for his 2.25 ERA that is actually better than his FIP of 3.19, making him the only pitcher discussed here that has escaped the scourge of the Pirates’ defense.
The end result is that the key Pirates are trending up. The Pirates are the 3rd best team in all of baseball that just have the incredible misfortune of being in the same division as the best team in baseball. It appears as if the Pirates will have to fight their way out of the Wild Card game and then do their damage in the playoffs after that.