It is often that the game of baseball tends to be unpredictable. A team can go from struggles to success, or vice versa, in an instance. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been firing on all cylinders as of late, but as we all know, this hasn’t been a recurring trend throughout the first several games of the Pirates season. However, as the calendar turns to the month of June, the Pirates could be poised for an even more successful stretch of baseball. Especially if history repeats itself.
In the last four seasons under manager Clint Hurdle, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been excellent in the month of June. Entering last night’s game against the San Francisco Giants, the Pirates held a 67-40 record in the month of June under Hurdle, which ranks as the best record in the National League. During those first four months of June, the Pirates have averaged 4.58 runs per game and the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.49.
Despite an up and down beginning to the month of May, the Pirates ended the month with two consecutive sweeps of the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, and a four game split with a San Diego Padres team that is a lot better than they may seem.
The Pirates had won eight of their last ten games, including a seven game winning streak, going into last night’s contest with the San Francisco Giants. Things have been clicking for the Pirates in every aspect of the game, especially when it comes to the guys taking the mound to start the game.
During the ten game stretch, the pitching staff emerged as a huge threat to any team they went up against. In five games spanning from May 22 through May 26, all five Pirates starters including Gerrit Cole, AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke all picked up victories while all allowing less than two earned runs. The ten game span allowed the Pirates to run through the rotation, and while the first go around was literally perfect, the second wasn’t as perfect, but still stellar. Following another win by Cole in the finale against Miami on May 27, the rotation didn’t find the same success against San Diego that allowed them to take away two sweeps from the Mets and the Marlins. Burnett picked up the win in game one of the series, even while giving up four earned runs in 5.2 innings. Despite the less than exceptional performance, Burnett still holds a 1.81 ERA on the season. A day later, Francisco Liriano had another stellar performance, giving up only three hits and striking out 11 batters in six shutout innings. Unfortunately for the 31 year old left hander, he wouldn’t get the victory as the Buccos would lose on a walk off grand slam by Derek Norris in the bottom of the ninth inning, snapping the Pirates seven game winning streak. In game three of the series, Charlie Morton picked up his second straight victory after pitching seven solid innings and giving up one earned run on three hits, while Jeff Locke only lasted four innings in the series finale, giving up six runs on eight hits while taking the loss in a 7-1 Padres victory.
With what I have seen from the Pirates starting rotation in the previous three series, there is reason to be excited about what is to come in the month of June. As I have said before, Gerrit Cole has solidified himself not only as the ace of the Pirates staff, but as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Entering last night’s start in San Francisco, Cole held a 7-2 record with a 2.11 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 64 innings. I know there is a lot of competition in the National League, but the guy could be making a case to head to his first All Star game and even be considered a top CY Young Candidate.
Francisco Liriano has proved in his last two starts that he disagrees with me on that statement. Despite a horrid performance against Minnesota on May 19, his stat lines against New York and San Diego really speak for themselves and he has proved to hopefully have his struggles behind him. His command looks to be spot on and with back to back ten plus strikeout games, he looks to be back to the Frankie we all know and love.
AJ Burnett has been an interesting case this season. The man who returned to Pittsburgh following a one year stint in Philadelphia has proved to be a huge offseason acquisition for the Pirates. Though the veteran has said that this season is most likely his last, he is not pitching like a 38 year old. He currently sits fourth in the National League in ERA and will likely be a huge asset as he attempts to help lead the Pirates into the postseason one final time.
Charlie Morton, who recently came off of the disabled list, has been solid in his first two starts of 2015. Morton is not a strikeout pitcher, but he doesn’t have the nickname “Groundball Chuck” for no reason. His sinker has allowed him to accumulate ground ball outs and if he can continue to do that and have good command of his other pitches, he is bound to continue being a solid fourth option in the Pirates rotation.
The fifth spot in the rotation has been the most interesting spot for the Pirates. Despite a solid outing for Jeff Locke against Miami on May 26, he was knocked around in his last start against San Diego and I’m starting to wonder how long he’s going to remain in the rotation. The former National League all-star is 3-3 with a 5.34 ERA this season and could be seeing the end of his time in the starting rotation, at least for the time being. Though Clint Hurdle has confirmed that Locke will make his next scheduled start, the Pirates do have backup plans. Vance Worley, who was moved into the bullpen to make room for Morton, does seem to have more of an upside than Locke. He had a stellar year last season and, if given the opportunity again, he may be able to return to his old form. Another option could be Casey Sadler. Sadler has actually made an appearance as a starter this season and proved to be impressive. In one spot start, Sadler pitched five solid innings giving up two runs on four hits, while striking out five Milwaukee Brewers on April 12. If Locke struggles in his next start, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fifth starter opportunity is passed on to someone else. It will be very interesting to see who the replacement is and if either of these two players would be considered to fill the void.
It is safe to say that the Pirates starting rotation is heating up at the right time, while entering what the past four years have proved to be the team’s hottest month. With the offense clicking better than it has all season long and the pitching staff dominating opposing hitters, the Pirates have shown that they have what it takes to compete with the likes of the St Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central Division. Let’s just hope that the success we have witnessed in the last few weeks can become a recurring trend throughout the month of June and throughout the rest of the season.