Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 7/2/12
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[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

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