Some have labeled the next few days at PNC Park the “most important series in the past 20 years” for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Such an assertion would be tough to argue, as the Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals in a five-game series (squeezed into four days) with the two teams atop the National League Central standings scraping away at each other as the calendar flips to August.
Here’s another assertion that is tough to argue: The Pirates better cut down on their strikeout rate if they truly want to contend for the division crown.
As of late especially — and in general all season — the Pirates have, simply, swung and missed too much, even as they hold onto a 61-42 record.
In the recently-concluded road trip that ended on Sunday, in which the Pirates went 5-5 in 10 games against Cincinnati, Washington and Miami just out of the All-Star break, the Pirates struck out an alarming 112 times.
That’s more whiffs than a bunch of teenaged girls at Sephora.
Of those past 10 games, seven yielded double-digit strikeouts and headed into Monday’s series opener against the Cardinals in the (say it with me) “most important series in the past 20 years” the Pirates struck out, in succession moving backward to Wednesday, 13, 11, 11, 15 and 13 times.
The 10-game road swing was capped off by a 3-2 loss on Sunday in which 20-year-old Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez hit a career high in strikeouts, fanning 13 Pirates without walking any.
And that performance came just a few days after the finale of the Nationals series, a 9-7 loss for the Pirates in which Washington starter Gio Gonzalez struck out 11 in 5 2/3 and his bullpen pitched in to sit down four more on strikes.
As the Pirates pull into PNC Park for this astoundingly vital series against the Cardinals, they have struck out 887 times on the season, second only in the National League to the Atlanta Braves.
A point of contention from seemingly the first time he pulled on a Pirates cap for third baseman Pedro Alvarez, has been his strikeout ratio. As he’s played 95 games this season, Alvarez has whiffed 122 times in 344 at-bats.
Such a number, indisputably, could serve him well if it were to be cut down. However, Alvarez’s 26 home runs, 65 RBIs and .497 slugging percentage — which all lead the club — would offset his strikeout rate at least to some degree.
Conversely, outfielder Starling Marte’s strikeout rate — to me at least — appears to be a bit more alarming. During this past 10-game roadtrip, Marte didn’t go a game from his leadoff spot without striking out at least once.
Furthermore, Marte fanned 18 times in the past 10 games, having two three-strikout games on the roadtrip — the opener in Cincinnati and Sunday against the Marlins.
Other than Alvarez, no other Pirates player has toppled the 100-strikeout plateau but Marte, who has 107 going into the Cardinals series as he’s played 98 of the Pirates’ 103 games.
All the aforementioned numbers are a lot of figures to throw at you, a load of digits for you to comprehend.
Want the long and short of it in the CliffsNotes version?
This Pirates team would do well to put the baseball in play more.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.