Lost Opportunities As The Bucs Go .500 In The Season's Longest HomestandBy Chris Mack

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – The season’s longest homestand has come and gone, and with opportunities to do more gone by the way side, the Pirates went 5-5 during their 10-game stretch at PNC Park. They now head out to face division rivals in Milwaukee and St. Louis in what is still a tight, if somewhat underwhelming N.L. Central.

After taking an extra week to allow the totality of that homestand to be considered, it’s time to update our Pirates Power Rankings:

OUT: Phil Gosselin, Tyler Glasnow, & Johnny Barbato (optioned to Indianapolis)

IN: Edgar Santana (called up from Indianapolis), Jameson Taillon & Chris Stewart (reinstated from the disabled list)

25) Jhan Marinez (no change) – Marinez continues his role as the mop-up man in the bullpen. Consideration was given to bumping him up a spot if only for his clubhouse dance moves, but he’ll need to show some consistency outside of his salsa/meringue sweet spot.

24) Max Moroff (+1) – Moroff’s power in Indianapolis has yet to materialize, and his high swing and miss rate is a concern he’s aware of. His glove though, has shown well, including a clutch play on a ground ball up the middle late in Saturday’s win over Chicago.

23) Tony Watson (-7) – At this rate, he’ll be the pitching coach for the West Virginia Black Bears in 2022. Watson’s stuff – which was never the lights out kind of back-of-the-‘pen repertoire we’re used to seeing in 9th inning guys – has regressed to the point that it’s hard to see him working his way back into high-leverage situations in time to push his value back into the black before the trade deadline. Maybe he can find his way back into a 7th or 8th inning role eventually, but it feels like that’s a long way off.

22) Chris Stewart (activated from DL) – Pure speculation on my part, but there has to be a team suffering from a depth situation behind the plate that would be willing to throw a sack of cash, a player to be named later, or something at the Pirates for Stewart before they’re forced to consider releasing a great clubhouse guy who, at this point, serves very little purpose otherwise due to the emergence of Elias Diaz.

21) Edgar Santana (called up from Indianapolis) – This guy’s been playing baseball for less than 5 years. His slider was the talk of the Arizona Fall League, he can tag 98mph with his 4-seamer, and he has the confidence that comes from each of those. Watching him grow into a back end role over the next year or so – if not more quickly – is going to be fun.

20) Chad Kuhl (+2) – Numerically speaking, Kuhl’s last 3 starts have been better than anything else he’s done since the home opening series against the Braves. But none of them have extended beyond 5 innings, so there’s still room for improvement. Otherwise, he’s bound to simply take up Tyler Glasnow’s title of Guy Most Likely To Shred The Bullpen Every Five Days.

19) Wade LeBlanc (-6) – LeBlanc had pitched 6 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings before last week’s surrender of back-to-back extra-inning game-winning hits in Baltimore led him down a spiral of giving up runs in 5 out of his last 6 outings while being hit at a .382 clip. In that time his ERA has climbed from 2.41 to 4.20.

T-17) Daniel Hudson (+5)A month ago, Hudson had an ERA north of a touchdown. Since then he’s been the most effective member of the bullpen not named Felipe, including the past two weeks, when he’s held opponents to a .150 BA.

T-17) Jose Osuna (no change) – Osuna’s slowly starting to fade into the wallpaper of the 2017 season as John Jaso becomes the team’s top bench bat and 4th outfielder. He has proven himself more than capable of handling first base on Josh Bell’s rare off days though, and it’s worth noting that of anyone with at least 100 PAs on this team, he’s 3rd in Slugging, behind just Andrew McCutchen and Bell.

16) John Jaso (+3) – Without having to play every day, Jaso’s gone from a .141-hitting liability to the 2nd best pinch-hitter in baseball, hitting .375 w/2 HRs & 7 RBIs in 20 pinch-hit opportunities.

T-13) Trevor Williams (no change) Williams is currently suffering from the same rookie affliction of inconsistency that has plagued Kuhl and sent Glasnow packing for Indianapolis. If he can provide more of the kind of starts he provided in the 2nd half of May, he could be a proper 4th or 5th starting complement to Ivan Nova, Gerrit Cole, & Jameson Taillon.

T-13) Gregory Polanco (-3) The flashes of power Polanco shows form time to time make his baby deer-on-ice routine in right field that much more frustrating, especially when combined with his on-again/off-again routine at the plate. Clint Hurdle and Jeff Branson have been working with him individually, in much the same way they worked with McCutchen to get him going, but the results have yet to kick in.

T-13) Adam Frazier (-4) – Hitting just .200 over the past two weeks, Frazier has reached the depths of a slump that should have been expected for a guy who just barely misses qualifying as a rookie. What remains to be seen is whether this is the beginning of the revealing of Frazier to be an overexposed bench piece, or just a bump in the road before he gets back to doing what people were praising him for a month ago.

T-11) David Freese (+1) – It took Freese the better part of three weeks to come around following his DL stint, and while his numbers aren’t back to pre-DL form, he’s getting on base at a .408 clip in the past two weeks, third to just McCutchen & Bell over that time frame.

T-11) Elias Diaz (+2) – While he hasn’t Wally Pipp’d Francisco Cervelli yet, it’s only a matter of time before Cervelli goes on the DL again. And when it happens, if Diaz slashes .319/.385/.468/.853 while showing a better arm and just as good a rapport with the pitching staff as the incumbent, he’s going to do more than possibly push Stewart out the door; he just may make the Pirates question what to with a guy they have $22 million committed to over the next two seasons.

10) Francisco Cervelli (-2) – Fresh off the concussion DL, Cervelli’s OBP has peeked about .350 for just a day this season. Some clutch hits early in the season have given way to a guy who’s in the bottom fifth of the league in throwing runners out and probably doesn’t have the defense behind the plate to make worth what he’s making given a younger, cheaper option is tearing it up behind him..

T-8) Gerrit Cole (-2)Cole has one bounceback start under his belt after getting shredded for the better part of a month. Should he continue that bounceback in Milwaukee and St. Louis, perhaps he can get back to the top of the rotation with Ivan Nova and be a part of an impressive 1-2-3 for a team that needs rotation dependability now more than ever.

T-8) Jameson Taillon (reinstated from DL) – Without addressing the amazing perseverance of a young man who should be an inspiration to every young ball player facing physical obstacles – because 10,000 words could easily be spent on it – I’m going to look at the on-field performance of a guy who continues to show the kind of poise that is beyond his years. In his first 5 starts of the season, he was one of the best in the National League, allowing just 7 earned runs in 30 1/3 innings. Since then he’s pitched just three times, sandwiched around surgery for testicular cancer, and has seen his ERA ‘balloon’ to 3.38. Consider the fact that he’s just 25 years old and all that he’s gone through physically in the last 4 years, and his being the 2nd most consistent part of the starting rotation is astounding.

7) Jordy Mercer (+4)Making the biggest jump among position players in this week’s rankings is a guy who has never had offense as a key part of his game, but has slashed .381/.423/.629/1.052 over the last month, outpacing even his usual June/July swell in offense (.774 for his career in those months in OPS) by nearly 300 points. At a certain point, if Polanco’s struggles continue and if Frazier’s cool down sustains, a move in the lineup could be in order, and not just against left-handed pitching.

6) Josh Bell (+1)Bell has quietly gotten back to what was working for him before a small, late-May slump: Patience at the plate and jumping all over mistake pitches. In the last two weeks he’s slashing .308/.413/.538/.952 with a higher BB rate (15.2%) than K rate (13% rate). Those numbers are downright Votto-esque.

5) Josh Harrison (-2) – Harrison has two 10-game hitting streaks in the past month and continues to be the most consistent piece of the Pirates’ lineup. His drop in this week’s rankings are purely a function of the return to form of Andrew McCutchen.

4) Juan Nicasio (no change)Nicasio’s blown save Friday night is going to be held against him by fans much longer than it should, especially considering he’s been Robin to Felipe Rivero’s Batman out of the ‘pen this season. He’s still the most effective bet to be the set-up man to Rivero’s closer when the club finally settles in to the more traditional bullpen roles that will eventually come.

3) Andrew McCutchen (+2)While we may never expect him to revert to MVP McCutchen for an entire season, he’s had MVP-level numbers for the past several weeks, with an 1.157 OPS since moving down to the 6th spot. Will he stay there as long as he’s successful? Or will the team’s lack of a legit threat in the 3-hole provoke a move back to the spot he’s called home for most of his career?

2) Felipe Rivero (no change) – Much truth is said in jest, and on Sunday morning Clint Hurdle joked that Rivero had already been shipped out to Milwaukee so as to avoid the temptation to use him despite going 37 pitches over 2 2/3 innings on Friday and Saturday. The Pirates – and their fans – wish Rivero could pitch every day. Until you find someone to effectively work in concert with him though, he can’t be both your fireman AND your closer. He’s your closer. You let him have the entrance music. Now let him have the 9th inning.

1) Ivan Nova (no change)Nova continues to deal, continues to sit in the Top 10 of the National League in ERA (2.91), WHIP (1.02), Walks (9), and Wins (7), and is the rock of the team at this point. The lack of variance in his performance form start-to-start is why this team’s had just one losing streak longer than 4 games.

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