Once again, the Pirates are competing for the National League play-in game. A division title is out of reach since the Cubs are having their best season since their 1908 world championship. They haven’t been this good since only men could vote in a presidential election.
But maybe the Pirates can grab one of those final spots. Sure, they traded away their team’s record-setting closer and two-fifths of the starting rotation, but that’s the Buccos’ version of saying, “We are all in.”
Here’s how the Buccos are looking as we go down the stretch.
Out With the Old
Hey, Mark Melancon — thanks for breaking the organization’s all-time single-season saves record, now beat it. Tony Watson, Melancon’s understudy, will inherit the role of closer the rest of the way. Mark “The Shark” leaves to replace jerk-of-the-year annual nominee Jonathan Papelbon in Washington, D.C.
Bye-bye, Francisco Liriano — four bad months of baseball got him thrown out of the country. He is living in Canada now, joining J.A. Happ in the Blue Jays rotation. Pitcher Jon Niese is gone, too. He was like having another Jeff Locke, only not as dreamy. Niese goes back to the Mets where he came from.
Yes, Niese is the guy the Pirates traded Neil Walker to get, but they didn’t get Neil Walker back, they got Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo, who the Pirates let walk in the off-season, is an experienced arm in a bullpen spot that has been a revolving door of not-ready Indy call-ups. Nearly 100 percent of Pirates fans complained about this trade. Can’t blame them; the team did essentially give Neil Walker away for nothing. But we can’t keep living in the past.
In With the New
Felipe Rivero, who came over in the Melancon trade, is a fireball-throwing lefty from Venezuela. His salary is 20 times lighter than Melancon’s, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with it. If there are two things everyone wants in their bullpen, its heat and left hands. Rivero has them both, touching high digits on the radar gun. Scouts and coaches are infatuated with players with this kind of arm.
Ivan Nova comes complete with a good nickname: “SuperNova.” If he struggles, however, he will be called “Beat-up-Chevy-Nova,” but so far, so good with him. Nova has been exceptional in his first few starts with his new team. He already knows catcher Franciso Cervelli and his fine Italian hospitality. Still seems strange that a trade-deadline deal between the Yankees and the Pirates ends with the Pirates getting the player you actually have heard of.
Antonio “Ol Dirty” Bastardo is back, as I mentioned earlier. But the bullpen isn’t the problem, nor is the bench. Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez have hit around 25 home runs between them off the bench; David Freese has been great; and John Jaso and Matt Frazier have contributed as well. I feel sorry for any athlete with the last name Frazier. Anytime you fall or duck out of the way of a pitch, some idiot is going to say, “Down goes Frazier.” Joe Frazier was never even knocked out. He only lost four fights (two each to Ali and Foreman); three were TKOs and one a decision. Get knocked down once, and it’s all anyone can remember about you.
The mystery of Andrew McCutchen being very un-McCutchen continues. He’s still posting average numbers, but people are actually calling for him to be traded. Blasphemers. Give the guy a break; the Pirates are seeking their fourth straight year in the playoffs. Now granted, teams before 1969 had to win their league to get in the playoffs. Teams before 1993 had to win one of two league divisions to make the post-season. But never in the Pirates history have they been in four straight playoffs. If they do it this year, it will be once again without winning a division title.
The Pirates will be competing with the Mets, Cardinals, Marlins, and either the Dodgers or Giants for another shot at the post-season. This is the chance for McCutchen to redeem his season.