Last week did not go so well for the Pirates. They had an off-day Monday and did sweep the Mets in a doubleheader Tuesday, but Pittsburgh lost five straight games after that, including three to the division rival Cardinals. They were outscored 39-17 in the five games. Ouch.
The Cubs are running away with the NL Central -- Chicago is 9 1/2 games up on the second place Cardinals -- so at this point the Pirates have to focus on a Wild Card spot. They're 1 1/2 games back of the Mets for the second Wild Card spot with 98 games to go, so they're still very much in the thick of the race.
The Pirates are going to need to improve their rotation to make a serious playoff run however, and on Tuesday night, the first wave of help arrived. Young Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, flirted with a no-hitter in his second big league start.
The 24-year-old Taillon held the Mets to two singles, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch in eight shutout innings to earn his first MLB win. He faced 27 batters and only three hit the ball out of the infield. Oddly enough, Taillon had never once completed eight innings in his 84 minor league starts.
Taillon certainly would have reached the big leagues sooner had he not missed the entire 2014 and 2015 seasons due to injury. He had Tommy John surgery in April 2014 and his rehab was slowed by hernia surgery last year. Taillon is healthy this year and he dominated in 10 Triple-A starts before getting the call to the show.
Of course, the Pirates wish Taillon had joined their rotation under better circumstances. Tuesday night he was replacing ace Gerrit Cole, who recently landed on the DL with a triceps problem. The team hopes Cole will be able to return after the minimum 15 days. We'll see. Triceps can be tricky.
The Pirates will unquestionably be at their best with both Cole and Taillon in their rotation, because right now, the rest of the starters are not pitching well at all. That includes Francisco Liriano, who has been excellent since landing in Pittsburgh four years ago. Check out the team's regular non-Cole starters:
|Jon Niese||76 1/3||4.60||1.45||5.20||2.16||+0.2|
|Francisco Liriano||67 2/3||4.92||1.60||5.52||1.66||-0.3|
That's a combined 5.04 ERA in 275 innings from the club's primary starters aside from Cole. They've collectively been replacement level at best. It's pretty amazing the Pirates are over .500 with that staff. Good thing the offense is averaging 4.75 runs per game, huh?
The good news is the Pirates have more help on the way behind Taillon. Right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who came into the season as one of the three or four best pitching prospects in the minors, has a 1.90 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 71 innings in Triple-A. Rumblings of a call-up have persisted for weeks.
Cole's return and Glasnow's arrival -- whenever they happen -- figure to push Locke and Nicasio out of the rotation. It's not just the 5.00+ ERAs. Locke and Nicasio have the most experience pitching in relief, and Niese and Liriano have longer track records. (It also helps that they're making a ton more money too.)
It's always risky to count on young arms fixing your pitching problems if you're trying to contend -- Taillon's not going to flirt with a no-hitter in every start, after all -- but the Pirates aren't bringing up second or third tier prospects. Taillon and Glasnow have significant promise. We've already seen what Taillon can do.
If nothing else, the bar has been set pretty low. Pittsburgh's four regular starters aside from Cole have been pretty bad this season, so it won't take a whole lot for Taillon and Glasnow to be upgrades. Few contenders have the ability to address their greatest weakness from within the way the Pirates can potentially fix their rotation.