To say that the Pittsburgh Pirates have hit a bump in the road this month would be a pretty big understatement. The Bucs are 12-13 during the month of August and are currently four games behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers in the race for the NL Central. Though they’ve hit a minor rough patch in their season, this next month of baseball could make or break this struggling ball club.
It’s been a dramatic couple of weeks for the Pirates, losing star players off the field to injuries and struggling to get wins on the field. Despite having an August record that is below .500, the Bucs trail the San Francisco Giants by a game and a half for the second wild card spot in the National League.
After struggling and going 1-5 in two key mid-August series against the Nationals and the Braves, the Pirates have stepped up their last two series against the top two teams in the NL Central, Milwaukee and St Louis. The Bucs went 4-2 against their division foes and have put themselves in good position to improve their playoff chances with their schedule in September. They finish off August with a three game set against a struggling Cincinnati Reds team that has fallen out of the race for the division, sitting ten games back.
The Bucs should also be helped by the roster expansion at the beginning of September, when all teams can increase the amount of players from 25 to 40. Center Fielder Gregory Polanco, who was sent down to AAA Indianapolis this week after struggling with the Bucs following a hot start, should be a vital asset to the Pirates quest for another postseason berth. Though some believe this wasn’t a smart move on the part of the Pirates front office, this does allow Polanco to be able to take some time in the minors to regroup, make some adjustments and get things back on track before he makes his return to the major league lineup.
With the lack of acquisitions made by the Pirates at the trade deadline this season, they will definitely look to some of their young talent in the minors to make an impact once the calendar hits September.
The Bucs boosted the bullpen with the addition to John Axford and will most likely get the services of relievers Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise once the season is over for the Indianapolis Indians. Both of these pitchers could be vital assets to a fatigued bullpen that has struggled as of late.
Aside from the bullpen additions, the Pirates will also receive the services of other minor league players who are on the 40 man roster including Tony Sanchez, Michael Martinez, Chris McGuiness, Brent Morel, Jaff Decker, Andrew Lambo, and of course, Gregory Polanco. These players will serve a huge purpose for the Buccos as they wrap up the 2014 season and could have an impact on the way the division unfolds.
It’s been a season of ups and downs for a team that just made the postseason for the first time in 21 years, just one year ago. The main goal for this team is to get healthy for the final stretch. Reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen returned to the lineup yesterday against St. Louis after tweaking his injured ribs in Tuesday’s game, while Pedro Alvarez was held out of yesterday’s game with a sprained left foot. Both players have been red hot as of late and for the Bucs to be successful, they must get them feeling healthy for the stretch run.
With the health of some key players in question, the September call ups could have more of an impact than people may think. They’ll definitely be called upon to join the current brigade of Buccos as they look to repeat the magic that fans witnessed last fall.
A successful September is definitely on the horizons for this young Pirates team, who has experienced the highs and lows a 162 game season can bring. Now, only time will tell whether this team, and the new additions, can once again play competitive baseball in October.