Monday, August 17, 2015

Don't overlook the Pirates offense during the bullpen's stunning run

In their just-completed nine-game run against the three National League division leaders, the Pirates went 7-2. They swept the Dodgers at PNC Park, lost two-of-three to the Cards in St. Louis and then swept the Mets at Citifield.

While the Bucs bullpen has gotten a ton of credit for the team's recent run, and rightly so, (more on that later), let's not overlook an offense that put up 5 or more runs in six of those nine games. The Pirates are a stunning 63-13 when scoring three or more runs, largely because of the fantastic starting pitching they got in the first half of the season. But that hasn't been the case since the All-Star break. They have relied on an offense that has been much improved in the second half. In 88 games before the ASB, the Bucs as a team posted a slash line of .256/.317/.381 generating a .698 OPS. In 27 games since the break they've gone .271/.333/.443, an OPS of .776. The power surge has been particularly notable, as reflected in the slugging numbers above. Before the break the Bucs hit 67 homers or .76/gm. Since then they've hit 31, 1.15/gm and have homered in each of their last 10 matchups. Before the break they were averaging 4.0 runs/gm. After the break, a full run better at 5.0.

The pitching has been a different story. In the first half opposing hitters posted a slash line of .242/.304/.341, .645 OPS. The staff had a 2.86 ERA, second best in the game. Since the ASB hitters have slashed .281/.352/.433, .785 OPS, even better than the numbers Pirates hitters have put up, and the team ERA is 4.33.

But the second half numbers mask what is really going on with the Pirates staff. Since the break the Pirates starters have been getting bombed. After posting a 3.05 ERA pre-ASB, second to only the Cards, they been lit to the tune of 5.10, third worst in the NL. While the underlying metrics suggest the starters have been a bit unlucky, with BABip going from .300 to .362 and HR/9 going from 0.60 to 0.89, the reality is the results are significantly worse.

Cue the bullpen, which Clint Hurdle has had to do a lot lately. The Bucs pen has gone from very good to fantastic over the last few weeks. Let's take a look at what they did in this most recent nine-game stretch.

Vs. LA at PNC Park:

Relievers by appearance in the series, IP (Soria-2, Watson-2, Melancon-2, Bastardo-2, Blanton-3, Caminero-2, Hughes-1)

14 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 12 K, 1.29 ERA, 1.214 WHIP

Vs. StL at Busch

Relievers (Caminero-1, Bastardo-2, Hughes-1, Soria-1, Blanton-1, Watson-1.2, Melancon-1)

8.2 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 2.08 ERA, 1.154 WHIP

Vs. NYM at Citifield

Relievers (Hughes-2.2, Bastardo-3, Caminero-2.2, Melancon-2, Soria-1.2, Watson-1, Blanton-3)

16 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 17 K, 0.56 ERA, 0.500 WHIP

In the 9 games combined

38.2 IP, 26 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 9 BB, 35 K, 0 HR, 1.16 ERA, 0.905 WHIP

The win Sunday for Caminero was the bullpen's 16th consecutive win, the longest streak in MLB since the record-setting Pirates pen of 1909 won 22 in a row.

Ten days ago I called this stretch of 19 games (now 18 due to the rainout vs. the Cubs) the most-interesting stretch of games in the last 20 years. The Bucs have gone 8-3 in the first 11 and now come home for three with the Diamondbacks and four with the Giants. I thought winning 11 of 18 would be a success. 12 of 18 would be fantastic. And if the Pirates go 6-1 or 7-0? I imagine the Cards are going to find that objects in the rear-view mirror are getting awfully close.

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