I was struck by a comment Dejan made, I think in his chat, that the Pirates have a good bench this year and had a good one last year, too. Personally, I think the Pirates had a very bad bench last year. Mientkiewicz was a good bench player, but there wasn't much beyond him. Michaels had a few dramatic moments around mid-season, but he completely stopped hitting the last two months and his overall numbers were terrible. Rivas was a waste of a roster spot. Raul Chavez was a dime-a-dozen good-field, no-hit AAAA catcher. Gomez was passable as a pinch hitter but useless otherwise. He didn't hit enough to back up the infield corners and couldn't play the middle infield because he had no range at all.
This year, the pitching staff and Adam LaRoche are getting all the attention for the good start, but I think the bench is getting overlooked, and I think it should contribute more over time. It's easy to see the improvement from last year just by comparing:
Chavez/Jaramillo -- I'll leave aside Paulino, who presented Huntington with a special set of problems, and I'm counting Jaramillo even though he'll be the starter for a while because Doumit hopefully will return for the 2nd half. Jaramillo looks nearly as good as Chavez defensively and should be a much better hitter. I don't have any illusions that he's going to keep hitting the way he has so far, but he works the count and doesn't chase bad pitches. I don't see why he shouldn't hit .260 at least, with enough walks and doubles to help the offense. He's much younger and presents some upside, so having him sub for Doumit for a long period is not the disaster that it would have been with Chavez. And Diaz looks like he can hit a bit better than Jaramillo; the Pirates had nothing comparable to him last year. This is a big upgrade.
Vazquez/Gomez -- This is a moderate upgrade. There probably won't be much difference at the plate in the long run, but Vazquez is much younger and can play SS. I don't think his range is very good, but he doesn't look like anywhere near the statue that Gomez was. He doesn't have to be an everyday SS or 2B because if Jack or Freddy gets hurt, they can call up Bixler or Cruz, which they've just done. This gives the Pirates the option to go with Delwyn Young instead of a no-hit glove guy, so . . . .
Young/Rivas -- This is the really major upgrade. Rivas contributed nothing, a topic I won't belabor. Young can hit. He can't play short and maybe can't play second or third, but he doesn't have to. That's what Vazquez is for. If they ever manage to go into a game with 25 healthy players, Russell will have a much more flexible bench in the late innings when they're tied or trailing, which is where a bench becomes the most important. (Whether he'll use it or not is another issue. IMO Russell is a horrible in-game manager, but that's another subject.)
Hinske/Mientkiewicz -- Probably a wash. Mientkiewicz might be a better bench player in the abstract, because he rarely fans and has a very good eye, which makes him a very good late-inning PH. Hinske fans a lot but has far more power, and this team probably needs the power more right now. Mientkiewicz is a Gold Glove quality firstbaseman, but the Pirates need outfield backups more and Hinske is a better outfielder. He also should be better at third but most likely won't play there except in emergencies.
Monroe/Michaels -- Another wash. They're pretty much the same guy. Both started sliding rapidly downhill once they got past 27-28, and both did/should produce a low BA and low OBP with lots of Ks, modest power, solid defense and possibly the occasional dramatic moment.