The Pittsburgh Pirates have labored though the first third of a season they had hoped would replicate 2013 when they won the National League Wild Card. So far, not so good, as the Pirates have been out-manned and have underachieved. The good news is they are still only seven games back in the loss column at the moment. If they could get these five players to step up then they still have a chance to make a run at the division leading Milwaukee Brewers.
Francisco Liriano – A return to form by Liriano is a necessary step for the Pirates to move up in the division. The southpaw recorded his first win of the season recently and will need a lot more if the Pirates are going to make a move. Liriano has started 13 games this season and is now 1-6 in 2014. He has been a notoriously slow starter in his career but this season was his worst start to date. The weather now has warmed. The calendar has hit June. It is time for Lirirano to return to the form of 2013 when he went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA.
Starling Marte – Marte hit .280 last season with 41 stolen bases and 83 runs in 135 games last season. After signing an extension in spring training Marte has been a disappointment on all levels this season. He has already struck out 68 times this season and is hitting just .230. His ineffectiveness has allowed opposing teams to pitch around Andrew McCutchen and curbing the effectiveness of the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player.
Andrew McCutchen – Then there was McCutchen. Arguably the game’s best all-around player McCutchen is hitting .305 with an OBP of .422. Those are good numbers. However, the Pirates center-fielder has only seven home runs with 28 RBI this season. That is not good enough for a No. 3 hitter on a team that hopes to contend as it did last season. Being pitched around is nothing new to McCutchen, that’s why Marte’s bat has to pick up. Or, perhaps finally there is help on the way.
Gregory Polanco – Ah yes, the elite prospect that should be arriving within the week to the Pirates and not a moment too soon. McCutchen may finally have the teammate in the lineup that he has long gone without. Polanco is the kind of hitter and prospect that the Pirates have needed to help McCutchen out. Divion rivals St. Louis and Cincinnati have long boasted duos like Matt Holliday with either Albert Pujols or Allen Craig, or Joey Votto and Jay Bruce while McCutchen has mostly been a one-man band on offense. Polanco will change that. To say he is one of the Pirates that needs to step up is not fair. Polanco just needs to be called up. The sooner the better for the Pirates offense.
Neil Huntington – The Pirates general manager is fortunate that his team is still within shouting distance of the Brewers thus far. Huntington should have had Polanco on this roster a long time ago. He will soon be able to call the prospect up and can at least say the best players in the organization are finally playing. It might also be time to look at making a deal. Another bat in the lineup or another arm in the rotation would be a huge boost for a team that still has a chance.
Momentum is everthing for a sports team. The Pirates currently have none. At least not any positive momentum. If one of these Pirates five players can step up and turn their season around then perhaps it could be the tonic for the rest of the group. At that point anything could happen.
Commentary By Mick Varner
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering the Pittsburgh Pirates