Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Pirates Math Is Simple, Offense = Wins

Lessons of inconsistent '18 should be used to build for '19

Chris Mack
August 19, 2018 - 1:22 am

It’s not hard to look at the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates and see an easy equation: Offense = Wins.

Throughout the course of a roller coaster 2018 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone as their bats go.

In starting out 26-17, they had one of the five best offenses in baseball and the second best in the National League.

Over the course of the following 45 games they went 14-31 while producing the fewest runs in the game.

Then came an epic 11-game winning streak during which they hit .303, led the league in Slugging Percentage and On Base + Slugging and scored nearly 8 runs per game.

Since July 25th they’ve gone 9-13 while ranking in the Bottom 5 of the N.L. in Runs Scored, On Base Percentage, Slugging, and OPS.

With all that said, where would this team – currently 10 games back of the division-leading Chicago Cubs in the N.L. Central and 6 games back of the Wild Card St. Louis Cardinals – be without the starting pitching they’ve received over the last six weeks?

And what does it mean for the future of a team that’s started to build itself to compete for a postseason berth in 2019, 2020, and 2021?

Since July 7th the entire pitching staff has an NL-best 3.24 ERA.

The rotation over the past 30 days has the 5th best ERA in the NL, at 3.49, and if you remove the travesty that was The Clay Holmes-Casey Sadler Experiment in San Francisco on August 10th – a maneuver that should be forever held over this management team’s head – it would be a 2nd best in Major League Baseball 2.97.

Consider all of those numbers include a halting start to Chris Archer’s time in black and gold, and you come to another very simple conclusion: This team damn sure can pitch the lights out of the opponents’ side of the scoreboard.

Does that mean at 6 games out of a playoff spot with four teams to jump and just 38 games left to do so, we should halt the plans for a wake for the 2018 Pirates? Maybe. Maybe you wake up on the sunny side of the pillow every morning and can envision another double-digit win streak gaining them 7 games in the standings (see July 8 – July 24, 2018) and one of the most unlikely postseason appearances this side of the 2002 Oakland Athletics or 2007 Colorado Rockies.

Let’s do what this organization does best though, and look to the future rather than the present.

The Pirates will return an intact starting rotation of Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams, and Ivan Nova, with Chad Kuhl and Nick Kingham waiting in the wings and Mitch Keller on the horizon.

Their lineup however, even if it returns with both corner infield starters, Josh Bell and Colin Moran, their entire outfield of Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, and their catching tandem of Francisco Cervelli & Elias Diaz intact, will not return a single 25 home run threat. Over the past calendar year Marte has hit 22 HRs, Polanco 20, Corey Dickerson 16, and Josh Bell 14.

The 2019 Pirates have no power.

Without a consistent home run threat in the middle of the lineup – and more importantly, the middle of the infield – they will continue to lag against contenders who can produce runs with one swing of the bat, and leave next year’s team – one they’ve added Chris Archer and Keone Kela to – with a rookie second base-shortstop combination that’s combined to hit 16 HRs in 851 At Bats in AAA this year, in Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer.

Options exist. Perhaps General Manager Neal Huntington will deal from the wealth of starting pitching at his disposal and dig up a gem. That means whittling away at that stalwart rotation that’s kept this year’s club from fading completely into oblivion in August.

The more immediate, dependable, albeit more expensive option, is to actually play in the free agent market, especially if it runs as cold as last offseason’s did. Whether that means opening the checkbook to chase after a Brian Dozier or Eduardo Escobar, or perhaps making a less expensive play for a veteran like Asdrubal Cabrera (all of whom have hit at least 25 homers in their last 162 games), the Bucs will have the money to spend. Even if Dickerson receives $10 million in arbitration for next season and Kela another $4 milion, they’d project to have less than $71 million committed to approximately 20 players for the ’19 season.

If the organization really considers itself a contender moving into ’19 and ’20 – and they essentially said as much by going out and getting Archer and Kela – they’ll bolster a club that has their rotation for next season already set but that can’t consistently do what’s needed to win: Score runs.

Pitching may win championships, but you can’t get to the World Series without first getting to October. As we’ve seen this year, it may take 90 wins in the National League to reach the postseason.

And as the 2018 Pirates have shown us, the math is simple: Offense = Wins.