Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 4/15/12

Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug

All positives garnered from a surprising opening series victory over the cross-state rival Philadelphia Phillies was quickly forgotten after a Western massacre that would make even General George Custer sympathetic. Over the Pirates’ current 5-game losing streak at the hands of the Dodgers and Giants, the Buccos amassed only:

7 runs (1.4 per game)

27 hits (5.4 per game)

…the worst of which was clearly the series-opening 5-0 loss to the Giants, in which pitcher James McDonald and his one hit was the only event that stood in the way of a SP Matt Cain no-hitter. First, let’s highlight what positives there are, then churn through the negatives.

Positives

McCutchen; Image credit mlblogspittpeas

1. CF Andrew McCutchen is already earning his 6-year contract extension in a big way, batting .345 with what’s become a career-standard .820 OPS. Solid.

2. INF Casey McGehee hasn’t disappointed in his Pirates’ debut, batting .300 with an .800 OPS through six games.

3. Even though it was only 6 at bats, C Michael McKenry has 2 hits, including a home run. As C Rod Barajas’ obsolescence becomes more apparent as the season wears on, expect McKenry to share the starting duties, perhaps with some C Jake Fox thrown into the mix from AAA.

4. As a team, the Pirates are batting an unfathomable .180 with a .475 OPS. How is that a positive? Simply because there’s no way possible any team is that bad. For comparison, the lowest team batting averages in MLB history belong to the Washington Senators in 1888 (.207, NL) and Chicago White Sox in 1910 (.212, AL).

5. The Pirates have had a tough, tough stretch of mound opponents to open the season. Many teams would struggle when facing Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Matt Cain. Even Vance Worley and Barry Zito are no slouches.

Negatives

1. Let’s be 100% honest here: Out of their 8 regulars, the Pirates have ONE hitter (Andrew McCutchen) that would start on any team in the league. One. They have one player in 2B Neil Walker that would start on probably half of the teams in the league, and 4 other players (INF Casey McGehee, OF Alex Presley, Garrett Jones, 1B Matt Hague [before his unnecessary demotion]) that would perhaps start on some of the league’s worst teams (Oakland, San Diego, Houston).

And until 3B Pedro Alvarez shows that he has a pulse (and can hit an offspeed pitch), the Pirates have him and 3 other players (C Rod Barajas, SS Clint Barmes, and OF Jose Tabata) that wouldn’t start anywhere. This a pretty terrible offensive ballclub, but this writer’s been arguing that all offseason.

2. There’s so little power on this team that one almost wonders how it’s even possible. The only players to EVER hit 20+ HR in a MLB season are McCutchen (2011), Jones (2010), McGehee (2010), McLouth (2008) and Barajas (2005), although Barajas last accomplished the feat 7 years ago (and in typical fashion, it was accompanied by a .306 OBP). While having five 20+HR players doesn’t seem bad on the surface, four of them are at the points in their careers where they’re either bench players, or are platooning.

3. I hammered GM Neal Huntington all offseason for what I considered incredibly ill-advised free agent signings of Barmes (2 years, $11MM) and Barajas (1 year + option, $4-7.5MM). Both players are clearly past their primes, demonstrating significant agre regression, and have always had huge issues reaching base (Barmes, .301 career OBP; Barajas, .287 career OPB

To date, the pair has posted the following:

Barmes 2 for 23, .087 BA, .342 OPS

Barajas 1 for 20, .050 BA, .195 OPS

Coming soon to a AAA stadium near you; Image credit sbnation

4. The Pirates inexplicably sent 1B Matt Hague to the minors to make room for Charlie Morton, despite the pitching staff holding its own, and mopup pitcher Jared Hughes only logging 2.0 IP to date. Whether Hague ever has enough power to be a true MLB firstbaseman remains to be seen, but he’s a career .302 hitter in the minors, whose HR production actually increased as he ascended to AA and AAA. Platooning Hague with Garrett Jones (.848 OPS against righties over the past 3 seasons) seems like a natural fit.

5. Although the offensive/defensive dependency dynamic isn’t as pronounced in baseball as it is a sport like football, continued poor production from Pirates’ hitters will eventually take its toll on the pitching staff, which has been a strength so far this young season. Without run support, pitchers naturally press and become tentative on the mound, knowing they can’t make a mistake. This could play particular hell on a pitcher like big offseason acquisition A.J. Burnett, who enjoyed sizeably more run support with the Yankees than he will with the Pirates.

In Summary…

Pittsburgh’s only played 5% of the season so far. On a positive note, that’s a small sample size…but many fans are arguing that this regression was apparent since August of last season. And frankly, you can’t even really call it a “regression”, because that presumes the offense was effective at some previous juncture. If the Pirates wish to continue pimping their “collection of young arms”, then at some point, they need to assemble a competent, productive group of hitters necessary to provide them with offensive padding while they hone their craft at the MLB level.

I don’t believe the Pirates will continue to bat .180 as a team. But their offense is very likely to be a detriment all season long, which will quickly take its toll on the pitching staff. Neal Huntington’s offseason failure to address an ineffective offense is of serious concern.

Thanks for reading.

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