Originally written on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/16/14
Mlb-pirates-tigers-jun

[Opening image (Garrett Jones) credit Justin Aller, Getty Images.]

Some thoughts following the Pirates’ series-opening 11-2 drubbing over the Houston Astros…

1.  If the Pirates continue to contend in the NL Central, they absolutely have to take advantage of playing the Astros (32-48) and Chicago Cubs (30-49).  Sweeps are preferred; taking 2 out of 3, the bare minimum.  It’s funny, because every opponent has probably viewed the Pirates from that perspective over the past 19 years, but heavy is the yoke of the NL Central basement.

McDonald; Image credit blackandgoldworld

2.  SP James McDonald wins again, and if there were any justice in the world, he and fellow rotationmate A.J. Burnett would make the All-Star Game NL roster when players inevitably drop out due to injury.  McDonald is among the top 10 in the National League in ERA and WHIP, while Burnett has won 8 starts in a row.

3.  While the majority of trade rumors will focus on the Pirates acquiring a bat, it would behoove them to explore available SP as well.  While the aformentioned Burnett and McDonald continue to anchor the rotation, the team has seen SP Erik Bedard and Kevin Correia cool after hot starts, and struggle with consistency.  SP Jeff Karstens looked sharp in his 2nd start since returning from injury, but still- this rotation could use one more quality arm to ease the responsibility of Burnett and McDonald.

4.  With the series opening win against Houston, the Pirates matched their season- and two-year high by reaching 7 games over .500.  The team is now a surprising +15 in run differential, and have approximately a 55% mathematical chance of making the postseason.

5.  The Buccos’ offense is truly remarkable, and totally unexplainable.  Despite carrying the following forgettable team marks:

Batting Average- 26th (out of 30 teams)

On Base %- 30th

Slugging %- 21st

Runs- 27th

…the Pirates actually led all of Major League baseball in runs scored in June, and were 5th overall in OPS.

6.  As recently as late-May, the Bucs only had 1 player with an .800+ OPS (Andrew McCutchen) and 1 with a .700-.800 OPS (Josh Harrison).  Now, Pirates hitters look much improved, although they have to keep it rolling:

Drew Sutton  1.008 OPS (22 AB)

Andrew McCutchen  1.007 OPS (legit MVP candidate)

Michael McKenry  .800 OPS

Garrett Jones  .797 OPS

Pedro Alvarez  .782 OPS (15 HR already)

Neil Walker  .726 OPS

Casey McGehee  .710 OPS

One of Mercer’s few plate appearances; Image credit yahoo

7.  While C Michael McKenry has earned more starting time due to Rod Barajas’s injuries and non-productivity, Clint Barmes continues to have a stranglehold on the shortstop position, despite a terrible .536 OPS.  Fans are continually wondering why the organization bothered to call up INF Jordy Mercer, only to begrudgingly toss him 9 at bats in over a month since he’s been called up.  That’s a waste of talent; either work Mercer in for a few starts a week, or send him back to AAA, so that he can play regularly.

8.  Speaking of callups, fans are wondering what more AAA SP Rudy Owens (7-3, 2.45 ERA), Justin Wilson (3.57 ERA, lefty, +1 K/IP), and Jeff Locke (6-4, 3.05 ERA) have to do to earn a cup of coffee at the Show.  The staff has been incredible, but with the Pirates’ probable preoccupation with adding veteran arms come late July, there’s a chance these 3 prospects are lost in the shuffle of contention.

Also of interest to Bucco enthusiasts is stellar CF Starling Marte, who continues to surge after his early-season struggles.  Marte is up to an .838 OPS at AAA, and with Jose Tabata’s and Alex Presley’s disappointing seasons manning the MLB corner OF spots, the potential of a defensive lockdown OF featuring Marte in CF and McCutchen gracefully patrolling LF causes excitement.

Trade season is just starting to heat up!  Stay tuned for Pirates’ trade blocks over the upcoming weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug

MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Aaron Rodgers buys TVs for Packers teammates

Harbaugh smiled when asked about Michigan's bday tweet

Jackie Robinson West Little League accused of cheating

Police: Fire that burned down McClain's home 'suspicious'

Furniture store will refund purchases if OSU wins title

What each NFC team in the hunt should ask for from Santa

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Is SI ashamed to mention Jameis Winston on its cover?

Kobe Bryant disappointed Lakers didn't get Rajon Rondo

Niners OT Anthony Davis takes shot at offensive coordinator

Report: Josh Smith expected to sign with Rockets

Cullen Jenkins unhappy over his roughing the passer fine

Bochy: Peavy trade was best in-season move of 2014

Peyton Manning plans to be back with Broncos next year

WATCH: Blazers announcer botches Damian Lillard call

WATCH: P.K. Subban disguises himself, surprises kids for Xmas

Baseball cards: a fan's love for the ultimate stocking stuffer

Packers game is a career defining moment for Stafford

A look inside Jason Grilli's contract with the Braves

10 Week 17 NFL matchups that will impact the playoffs

WATCH: Bahamas Bowl ends on insane Hail Mary play

Mike Yeo slams Wild for not having 'winner's attitude'

Michigan St. QB, Ohio State TE have awkward Twitter exchange

Will FIFA ever care to change?

Top storyline for each NFL Week 17 game

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

WATCH: Announcer botches call

Police: McClain fire 'suspicious'

10 Week 17 NFL matchups that will impact the playoffs

Bahamas Bowl ends on crazy Hail Mary

49ers OT Davis takes shot at coordinator

Will FIFA ever care to change?

Top storyline for each Week 17 game

40 great Christmas-related sports names

Nick Mangold and dealing with feelings as a sports fan

Ibaka, Aldridge ejected for scuffle

Baseball cards: a fan's love for the ultimate stocking stuffer

Nick Young on Kobe-less win: He needs to pass

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.