Wednesday’s 16-0 crushing loss at the hands of the New York Yankees was the Pirates 81st game of the season — the middle point of the 162-game slate. After the loss, the Pirates sit in fourth place in the National League Central division with a record of 33-48.
As should be expected in a rebuilding year, there have been plenty of ups and downs for the Bucs in the first half. As a whole, the Pirates still aren’t a competitive team, but it seems as though they are starting to trend in the right direction. Here are some takeaways from the first half.
Young Bucs Are Contributing
When the season began, it seemed like this would be the year that the Pirates wave of young talent would start to emerge with the Major League club. That has certainly been the case as a number of prospects have made their Major League debuts and have logged significant playing time.
Perhaps the best story of the first half has been the play of outfielder Jack Suwinski, who leads all National League rookies with 14 homeruns. Suwinski made his big-league debut at the end of April and hasn’t looked back since. His .786 OPS puts him right in the middle of the N.L. Rookie of the Year conversation.
Suwinski hasn’t been the only rookie to make an impact so far this season. Oneil Cruz hasn’t posted great numbers yet by any means, but he has shown the potential at the plate, in the field and on the base paths that make him one of the best prospects in the league. The same could be said for Roansy Contreras, who struggled in his last start, but otherwise has shown what he is capable of being at the Major League level.
Some other rookies such as Bligh Madris and Yerry De Los Santos, who perhaps weren’t as highly regarded as Cruz or Contreras, have been very useful for the Bucs and have made the most of their opportunities.
Last season, the Pirates were dead last in the Majors with just 124 homeruns on the season, 20 less than any other team. This year, however, the Pirates are 16th in the league with 88 homers (on pace for 176 for a full season. Players such as Suwinski, Bryan Reynolds and Daniel Vogelbach, who all have double-digit homerun totals already, are big reasons for the uptick.
The Pirates as a team have struggled to log homeruns for the last handful of seasons, so the emergence in the category this year is a welcomed change for a club that still struggles to score runs.
No Way, Jose
What a signing Jose Quintana was this winter. Coming off a down and injury-plagued 2021 season, Quintana was signed by the Pirates to hopefully offer some stability in the form of a veteran to an otherwise young and unproven rotation. Quintana has far exceeded those expectations and is pitching great to begin the season.
Through 16 starts to begin the season, the left-hander has posted a 3.33 ERA/3.37 FIP and has been the Bucs best starter on the season. While not overpowering, Quintana has been effective, especially with his off-speed pitches, and has done a good job of keeping opposing hitters off balance.
With the strong start and under club control for just this season, many contenders across the league will have interest in acquiring his services prior to the trade deadline next month.
As a whole, the Pirates bullpen has been a real issue for the team. The Bucs 4.79 ERA from relief pitchers this season ranks 29th in the league, ahead of only the Cincinnati Reds. David Bednar has been mostly excellent, and Wil Crowe has been good, but other members of the bullpen haven’t carried their weight, leading to a lot of shuffling in the first half of the season.
The Bucs will need to get better in that department in the second half of the season.
Same Story For Some Regulars
Ke’Bryan Hayes is playing like a Gold Glove caliber player at the hot corner for the Bucs and has a solid shot at winning the award. Mitch Keller has shown potential, especially with his new two-seam fastball, but has again been inconsistent throughout the season.
Michael Chavis has flashed his strong power potential with nine homers and has especially beaten up on left-handed pitching, making him an excellent platoon player.