I can’t even count how many times I’ve written that the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a wild first half. Since mid-May, the team went from fighting for the NL Central lead to then falling behind by 12.5 games.
There have been so many takes made by fans, media, and even the general manager. Some were good, most not great, and some very bad (aka Starling Marte being called a liability).
So lets add to the hot takes and give some bold outcomes for the remainder of the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.
The team will finish with 85 wins
I should start by saying, I believe Neal Huntington is going to end up being passive at the deadline, not making many major moves. He’ll probably trade either Jordy Mercer or Corey Dickerson and get some prospects in return. Both of those players are replaceable internally (see Austin Meadows and Kevin Newman).
When a lot of predictions were coming through as spring training ended, the Pirates were again expected to finish with a below .500 record.
In our staff’s official predictions in March, only three writers expected the Pirates to finish with more than 81 wins.
Through 97 games, the Pirates sit at 48-49, good enough for fourth place in the division and nine games back of the leading Chicago Cubs.
Of the 21 remaining series’ in the second-half, 12 come against NL Central opponents. Their record against divisional opponents through the All-Star break is 23-16. If they can stay on that pace, that will put them at over 40 divisional wins. The last time they did that was 2013 when they finished 45-31. It will not be an easy task, especially when 10 of the games come against the Cubs.
At 85 wins, this would most likely leave them on the outside looking in when it comes to even a wild card berth. However, a strong start and say taking two out of three in Cincinnati starting tonight would be a good boost forward.
Josh Bell will finish with 25 home runs
After a breakout 2017, where he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, Josh Bell started 2018 in a funk. It took him until May 6 to hit his second home run and he went into the All-Star break with just five after hitting 26 all of last season.
Comparing to last year, Bell is actually hitting (slightly) more fly balls than last year (4.13 to 4.45%) but his home run to fly ball ratio is down at just 6%, where it was at 19.1% last year. The 6% mark would be the fourth lowest of his career, including the minors.
While a 19.1% HR/FB ratio is six percent higher than any other year of his minor league career, Bell just hasn’t been carrying the ball with power. His ISO is down to .135 from .211 last year and his Hard hit % is down to 29.2% from 32.6%.
However, in July, Bell is slugging .465, including four doubles and a triple, just no home runs. I don’t believe his surge last year was a fluke, I just think pitchers know how to pitch to him now. The time off will do some good for his psyche and he will come back ready to mash.
Jameson Taillon will finish with a sub 3 ERA
Everyone was scratching their heads when Jamo’s ERA was just south of five (4.91) at April’s conclusion. He bounced back a little but it still looked like his stuff wasn’t all there. Then he made some tweaks to his approach on the mound, relying on his slider more. The results have been very positive.
Since May 27, Taillon has been the horse of the rotation. Over his last 54.2 IP, his ERA is 3.29, his FIP is 3.24 and his K% is 24.6%.
According to Brooksbaseball, since June 1, he’s thrown his slider 22.7% of the time. Whereas in April up until May 27, he didn’t throw his slider once. The numbers speak for themselves.
At 26 years old, his career has had so many twists and turns but he finally seems to be settling into his comfort zone.
Taillon gets the ball to open up the second half this evening in Cincinnati. While he owns a career 2-4 record against the Reds, he has not faced them since May 22, before he changed his plan of attack on hitters. Cincinnati has a solid lineup that will push Jamo to be at his best and come out of the gate strong.
As we prepare for more baseball, I believe Taillon will finally backup his number two overall pick status and enter the “ace” conversation.