Column | Pirates need to earn more strikeouts and improve hitting


AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Oneil Cruz hits a solo home run during a game against the Washington Nationals in June at Nationals Park in Washington.

By Ari Meyer, Staff Writer

The Pirates are in the midst of one of the more interesting seasons across the MLB this year — but fans would not know that from their record. 

Pittsburgh currently possesses a 22-19 record, which is good for a .537 win percentage on the year. However, on April 29, their record was 20-8 — best in the National League and second best in the league.

The team went on to lose 11 of their next 12 before beating the Orioles this past Sunday. 

Pitching isn’t a concern for the Pirates. Since April 11, the starting pitchers accumulated 3.05 ERA, which is the second best in the MLB in that time frame. Instead, batting is where many of the inconsistencies and inadequate play have come from, which led to these losses.

On Saturday, the Pirates fell to the Orioles 2-0. Starting pitcher Roansy Contreras pitched seven innings, allowing only two earned runs. This did not suffice, however, as the Pirates could not get anything going with the bats. No Pirates batter got more than one hit in the game, as the team got shut out with three total hits. 

In order for the Pirates to return to their winning ways this year, two main things must happen.

Maintain current pitching staff while changing how they pitch

The Pirates pitching staff is a vital part of the team’s success so far, and they should strive to maintain their current performance and improve on it. They rank No. 7 in the MLB for season-long ERA, and this is a large part of their success overall.

However, the Pirates rank 20th out of 30 in the league in strikeouts thrown. In order to strengthen an already powerful pitching staff, they must improve on their strikeouts, as balls batted into play favor run opportunities. 

Additionally, they rank 19th of 30 in WHIP, a statistic that takes walks and hits allowed and divides it by innings pitched. 

On the other hand, the Pirates pitchers rank within the top five for both runs and home runs allowed, meaning that, while they often give up hits, the pitcher gives up less bases. The fielders also play an important role, as they help the pitcher strand the runners on the bases instead of scoring. 

The Pirates pitching staff should largely continue pitching the same way, as for the most part much of the team’s struggles come from dormant batting. Some pitching struggles occur, such as a 10-1 loss to the 18-24 Colorado Rockies, but those happen rarely. The pitching consistency is not an issue, and the staff is keeping their team in games and paving the way to success.

The Pirates pitchers are successful in allowing the batters a good chance of taking a lead and stretching it due to their above average play, but the batters often struggle to capitalize on those chances.

The Pirates must bat more consistently

One of the main issues during the Pirates stretch of losses stemmed from unimpressive batting from the entire team. Since team anchor Oneil Cruz got sidelined in early April with a four-month ankle injury, the Pirates cannot consistently bat well. 

The Pirates currently bat at a .241 average, which is 19th out of 30 teams in the league. For a team that is hoping to compete for the playoffs, this number is less than satisfactory. Additionally, they rank 24th in the league in total hits. 

This has led to many instances of close games where the pitcher can get the job done, but the bats cannot produce. One such example is the 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on May 4. The Pirates pitching staff combined for only five hits allowed, but the batters could not produce, totaling only four hits.

However, they do perform well in certain innings, such as their most recent win against the Orioles. In the third inning, the Pirates put up three runs en route to a 4-0 victory. 

Conversely, the Pirates ended the game with less hits than the Orioles, as they hit seven to the Orioles eight. They also only had one hit after the third inning — a single by second baseman Tucupita Marcano.

It is important that the Pirates scored four runs in the game against the Orioles, but it is equally as important to show what happened after, as it is a small sample of a larger issue plaguing the team this year. 

It is not necessary for the Pirates to score three runs every inning to count it as a success, although that would not hurt. The issue lies within the stagnant bats around those innings. 

The Pirates will succeed if they can consistently get a couple hits per inning, even if it means sacrificing larger innings like the three run inning against the Orioles. 

Overall, the Pirates play baseball pretty well. A winning record up to this point is nothing to scoff at, especially for a team that had a 62-100 record in the previous season. The Pirates will look to improve on that number and fight for a chance in the playoffs, as they currently sit in a wild card spot.