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Pitt Night sets standard for Pirates going forward

Andrew McCutchen drove in 20 runs for the Pirates in September. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Andrew McCutchen drove in 20 runs for the Pirates in September. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Andrew McCutchen drove in 20 runs for the Pirates in September. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

By David Leftwich / Staff Writer

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The force was strong with the Pittsburgh Pirates this past Wednesday at PNC Park.

On a dually-themed University of Pittsburgh Night and Star Wars Night, the Pirates put together a complete performance to blow out the visiting Seattle Mariners, 10-1.

After Chancellor Patrick Gallagher hurled the ceremonial first pitch to Head Football Coach Pat Narduzzi before the game, Gerrit Cole took the hill for the Pirates and pitched a complete game gem –– the first of his career.

The Pirates broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the bottom of the third inning, providing more than enough support with the way Cole was pitching.

Seattle got on the board during the sixth, but the Pirates responded with four more runs in the bottom of the seventh, followed by Andrew McCutchen’s three-run homer in the eighth to put the game away.

On a night that also included several sparkling defensive plays, Josh Harrison turned a sharply hit grounder into a game-ending double play to cap off the 10-1 victory and Cole’s first complete game.

After the game, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had high praise for his ace.

“He earned the opportunity,” Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There’s no flat-out way I can take him out of that game.”

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and football head coach Pat Narduzzi were on hand for the Pittsburgh Pirates “Pitt Night” Wednesday, July 27 at PNC Park. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

This kind of well-rounded performance from the offense, defense and the pitching staff is the antithesis of how the Pirates have been winning games this season, but it’s exactly the formula they need for success.

With a record of 52-48, the Pirates sit eight games back of the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central Division and two-and-a-half games back of the Miami Marlins for the second NL Wild Card spot.

As similar as this roster is to last year’s Wild Card team –– which won 98 games in the regular season –– this year’s bunch has had trouble just staying above .500.

The most glaring issue has been the starting pitchers.

Inconsistency and injury have led the Pirates to call their top two pitching prospects, Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, up to the major leagues. But both have fallen victim to right arm injuries and landed on the 15-day disabled list, where Glasnow remains.

Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault –– who is scheduled to start Friday at Milwaukee –– have also made their debuts in black-and-gold this season, meaning the Pirates have already sent four rookie starting pitchers to the mound in 2016.

While the young guns have brought a sense of excitement to the team, their presence hasn’t yet changed the direction of the ball club. Although the rookie pitchers have all shown promise in their brief stints in the majors, they still need time to develop.

Offensively, the Pirates have been solid all year. Despite McCutchen’s down season, the team still ranks fourth in the NL with a .262 batting average. His fellow outfielders, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, have picked up the slack –– hitting .318 and .291, respectively.

For the Pirates to salvage any hope of making the playoffs this season, they will need to go out and add another pitcher before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. The team needs another top-of-the-rotation arm like Cole’s, one that gives them a chance to win every start.

But with the starting pitching market spread so thin, picking up a pitcher of that level may require the Pirates to mortgage their top-ranked farm system to invest in an uncertain present.

On the other hand, this last performance against the Mariners proves that the Pirates have the potential to be a good team –– maybe even dominant.

Still, until they prove they can be good consistently, flashes of dominance might not be enough for the team to make its fourth straight postseason trip.

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Pitt Night sets standard for Pirates going forward