Things still look bleak for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but they have taken a step forward, winning four of their last five games.
Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said Sunday that the next eight games prior to the all-star break would dictate what the organization does at the July 31 trade deadline.
His words followed a three game series sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers and two straight losses to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Pirates responded with a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia to stop a five game losing streak and salvage a game in the series.
With the eight game stretch against the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers approaching, it wasn’t unrealistic to think the Pirates could continue their struggles against a pair of talented teams.
However, the Bucs have found a way to hang thus far, taking two of three from the Nationals and winning the series opener against the Brewers Thursday.
The Pirates, who are 44-49 this season, still sit 10.5 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central race, and all signs point to them selling at the trade deadline. But this week did see the team provide more positive moments than negative for a change.
Here are some of the top storylines, positive and negative, from the week that was in Pirates baseball.
TAILlon shines in latest outing
After showing a bit of disappointment in only going 6.2 innings while throwing 77 pitches against the Phillies last weekend, Jameson Taillon showed up in a big way Thursday night against the Brewers.
The right-hander had one of his best outings of the year, allowing one run on four hits in six strong innings. He walked a pair and struck out a career-high 10 while throwing 62 of his 96 pitches for strikes.
Since making his major league debut in 2016, Taillon hasn’t really shown a ton of consistency on the mound. However, his performance Thursday is exactly what the organization expects of him more often than not.
After compiling an ERA over 4.00 in April and May, Taillon has settled down in the months of June and July. He had 2.90 ERA in five starts last month, and is 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA in three outings so far this month.
Regardless of where the Pirates currently are in the standings, it’s nice to see Taillon, a talented pitcher who has gone through so much in the last few years, pitch to his potential. Because when he does, he’s a legitimate force on the mound.
Mercer leading the way?
During the Facebook Watch broadcast of the Pirates/Nationals game Wednesday, the difficulty of hitting in the number eight spot in the batting order was discussed by the broadcast team of Rich Waltz, F.P. Santangelo and Pittsburgh native Sean Casey.
The trio also brought up Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, who has embraced hitting out of the number eight spot and has succeeded in doing so.
Mercer has had a solid year that might get unnoticed at times. He’s hitting .253, which is just under his career mark of .256, with five home runs and 30 RBIs. Mercer has also been a doubles machine, picking up 21 in 83 games. His previous career-high for a season was 27, which he set in 2014.
Mercer has been incredibly influential over the Pirates’ last two games, picking up five hits in his last seven at-bats. He went 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles and a run scored in the 2-0 victory over the Nationals Wednesday and went 3 for 4 with a run scored and a career-high four RBIs Thursday.
It might be unrealistic to think Mercer can continue his stellar pace tonight against the Brewers, but it’s fair to say he has led the way offensively over the last two days.
Luplow starting over Meadows?
For the second straight day, Jordan Luplow was pencilled into the Pirates lineup Thursday. And for the second straight day, he did nothing.
After going 0 for 3 Wednesday against Washington, Luplow had an 0 for 4 showing against Milwaukee, grounding into a pair of double plays and striking out once. Five runners were stranded on base during Luplow’s at-bats.
His two starts come in favor of Austin Meadows, who has seen his playing time decrease over the last week or so.
Meadows, who has had his share of struggles over the past few weeks, hasn’t started since Sunday against the Phillies and is 2 for 5 in pinch hit opportunities since then.
Our own Matt Shetler touched on Meadows this past week and the possibility of him being sent down to Triple-A Indianapolis. That’s likely the most beneficial move for the young prospect, who needs to have at-bats.
If the Pirates aren’t going to use him and rather have Luplow’s .193 career average in the lineup, then give Meadows the opportunity to receive playing time until the appropriate time is right to bring him back.
One lone all star
Felipe Vazquez will be the lone Pirates representative at the MLB All-Star game in Washington next week.
Vazquez, who has has already matched his career-high with 21 saves in 25 opportunities this season, was selected to his first all-star game this week. The nod isn’t surprising considering Vazquez is in the top five amongst National League relievers with 55 strikeouts in 40 innings.
Some may have thought the Pirates could have snuck one or two more all-stars into the mix.
Corey Dickerson, who was an all-star last year, could have been a potential selection. He’s hitting .305 this season with six home runs and 35 RBIs. However, he hasn’t been the power hitter or run producer that he has been in the past. In his last 30 games, Dickerson has just one home run and three RBIs.
Francisco Cervelli was another option as he’s already set a career-high with nine home runs while driving in 36 runs. A recent stint on the disabled list might have hindered his chances along with the fact that he’s hitting .189 over his last 30 games.
To many, Starling Marte might have also been considered a snub, despite the fact that there is so much outfield talent in the National League.
Marte is hitting .284 this season with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs this season. He is also tied for second in the majors with 23 stolen bases.
All in all, the right decision was made to select Vazquez as the lone Pirates representative.
The Pirates aren’t in much of a position to have more than one all-star and Vazquez seems like the most deserving of the bunch.