As we all know, the Pittsburgh Pirates are well out of contention. With a record of 57-77, they are completely irrelevant, so it can be difficult for even the most avid fans to focus on the remaining games.
As someone once said, even a terrible pizza is still pizza. It’s good. Terrible major league baseball is still major league baseball. It’s fun to watch and appreciate if you love the game. Months from now, when it is cold outside and Neal Huntington isn’t making any significant moves (because we all know he isn’t getting fired), you may yearn to watch a game, even if the team you root for is eternally hopeless. Keep that in mind as the Pirates trudge towards the end of the season.
Bad baseball aside, there are still some fun things to watch for as the Pirates’ season draws to a close. I’ve put together a list of five.
Josh Bell’s chase for 40
As of right now, Bell has 34 home runs with 28 games remaining. He has already snapped the Pirates’ five year streak of not having a 30 home run hitter (shout out 2013 Pedro Alvarez). Now he’s attempting to be the first Pirate to hit at least 40 dingers since Willie Stargell did it back in 1973.
At the All-Star break, Bell had 27 home runs and seemed like a lock for 40 with the potential to push for 50. He then entered a 22-game homer-less slump which earned him the magical Clint Hurtle three-game benching. In the 19 games since, Bell has looked more like himself smacking seven dingers.
Will he get to 40?
I say yes. Of the 28 games remaining, 16 are against teams with records under .500 so Bell will have ample opportunity against sub-par pitching.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the RBI chase. Bell (106) is currently one RBI behind Freddie Freeman for the major league lead. Obviously RBIs are an icing on the cake type of stat, but winning that crown would be neat nonetheless.
Bryan Reynolds’ push for the batting title
Right now, Reynolds has a .328 batting average, currently fourth in the NL behind Jeff McNeil, Christian Yelich, and Anthony Rendon. That said, he is only two points behind the league lead.
No rookie has ever won the National League batting title. Only Tony Oliva (1964) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) have won it in the American League and as we know, Ichiro was a well-polished 27-year-old superstar when he did.
Reynolds winning the batting title would make history. It would also be a mini consolation prize for the Pirates in an otherwise disappointing season. The last Pirate to win the batting title was Freddy Sanchez back in 2006. Like this year, that season was a wash as the Pirates totaled just 67 victories.
Will Reynolds get it done?
Tough to say. Since the All-Star break, Reynolds is hitting .310. In his last 12 games, he has hit .319. Yes, he’s cooled off since his insane first half, but Reynolds has still been close to if not an elite hitter since. Like most things in baseball, this will probably come down to luck. Hopefully Reynolds prays to the BABIP gods each night.
Starling Marte 30/30
Right now Marte has 23 home runs and 25 steals. The last Pirate to hit at least 30 home runs while stealing 30 bases in a season was Barry Bonds in 1992. If you were wondering, Bonds hit 34 home runs and stole 39 bags that season. His fWAR was 9.6. He was pretty good.
Marte will more than likely swipe 30 bags. He’s reached that mark in every full season he’s played. The question comes with the home runs. His current total of 23 is already a career high (thank the balls). His hard hit rate of 38.4 percent is also a career high.
Will he do it?
Asking for seven home runs in 28 games seems like a lot for Marte. But like Bell obviously, he won’t face the greatest of pitching. Marte has smashed 11 taters in 45 games since the All-Star break so it’s not out of the question. He will need to continue his post All-Star break hot streak to have a chance.
Mitch Keller’s progression
I know, I know. Keller has an 8.62 ERA and has given up five home runs in 31.1 innings. He also has 41 strikeouts and a K rate (26.8) that would put him near the top 20 in the majors if he qualified (small sample size aside). His FIP is also 3.92. For what it’s worth, Keller’s fWAR (0.6) is slightly below Chris Archer’s (0.7) and he’s pitched about 90 less innings.
There’s something there.
Keller learned his slider just this season and it has been nasty. Opponents are hitting .179/.233/.321 against it. His curveball has been as advertised too with opponents are hitting .133/.278/.133 against it. Where Keller has been getting crushed is his fastball (.509/.533/.764).
Like so many current and former Pirate pitchers, pitch usage is an issue. This season in the majors, Keller has thrown his fastball nearly 60 percent of the time. His curveball and slider have been thrown about 35 percent of the time with a changeup sprinkled in here and there.
That has changed recently though. In his past two starts, Keller has relied more on his breaking stuff and has thrown the fastball closer to 50 percent of the time. He has stuck out nine and eight batters in those starts, his two highest totals of the season.
Yes, he was shelled in his last start in Philadelphia, but the current trend of using his fastball less needs to continue to help Keller reach his full potential.
September Call ups
Last season, the Pirates had some September call up theater with the emergence of Pablo Reyes. It hasn’t exactly translated into success this season, but in the moment, it was fun.
This September, the Pirates will see some familiar faces called up. It will be interesting to see the types of opportunities players like Cole Tucker, Kevin Kramer and Jason Martin get. How will guys like Geoff Hartlieb and Luis Escobar fare at another try in the bigs?
What about guys not currently on the 40-man roster like Will Craig and Ke’Bryan Hayes?
In Hayes’ case, it seems unlikely that he’ll get a shot in the bigs this season. For one, he hasn’t lit up the world in AAA. Two, the Pirates probably don’t want him to accrue any unnecessary major league service time.
In the case of Craig, a move to the 40-man roster makes a little more sense. Someone like Archer or Gregory Polanco could potentially be moved to the 60-day IL to make the room. That is unless those guys plan on coming back this season.
If Craig were called up, he would most likely get some looks in right field with Bell locked in at first base. If the Pirates really waned to get creative, they could move him back to third (a position he hasn’t played since low-A), or even second base. In that scenario though, a offseason of work would be most likely needed.
Craig has cooled off in August and his overall .248/.325/.426 slash line in AAA this season isn’t otherworldly. But he has hit 21 home runs. That’s at least noteworthy and worth a look.