On May 20, the Pirates lost 4-3 in 13 innings to the Minnesota Twins, dropping their record to 18-22. Starling Marte went 2-for-6 in the game and drove in two of the Pirates three runs. He finished the night with a triple slash line of .297/.346/.531 and a .877 OPS.
In an odd coincidence, that game, which left the Pirates four games under .500, marked the Pirates low-point on the season. It also marked the high-point in Starling Marte's offensive numbers. After an off-day the Pirates beat the Mets 4-1 to start a 7-game win streak. Since May 22 the Bucs are 70-38, the best record in all of baseball.
At the same time Marte has struggled. For the first six weeks Marte was the team's best offensive player as Andrew McCutchen had a horrific first month. But Marte went 0-for-4 in that win over the Mets and has put up a triple slash line of .272/.322/.399 and a .721 OPS since then. In 412 PAs he's only hit 9 home runs and walked 15 times. Contrast those numbers with the first six weeks. In 160 PAs he hit 8 homers and walked 9 times. (Marte has still been outstanding defensively, leading NL in outfield assists by a large margin and I'll be shocked if he doesn't win his first Gold Glove.)The end. Duty called, I didn't finish. The Pirates have since rolled off five more wins to extend their streak to six and Marte just tied a franchise record held by Pie Traynor by collecting 13 hits in a four-game series against the Rockies. I was going to go into much more detail on Marte's sturggles, but nay, that time has passed. Nonetheless, I think you can figure out where I was originally headed. Marte's bat can make the difference in a Kang-less lineup.
Last year, after returning from the disabled list on Aug 5, Marte hit .354/.406/.569 for a .975 OPS in 197 PA with 8 homers and an improved 36:10 K:BB ratio. He had a hit in his last 13 games and 25 of his last 27 and it looked like he had it all figured out. It even led me to suggest that he was a darkhorse MVP-candidate this season.
It hasn't played out as well as that, but Marte again appears to have found his stroke. He has posted five straight multi-hit games and his September line of .366/.398/.549, .947 OPS mirrors what we saw from Marte the last two months of '14.
In my original Reversals of Fortune piece I was going to suggest that Marte might be the key to the Pirates stretch-run and playoff fortunes and that he needed to replicate his late-season 2014 surge. Well, it appears he is doing just that. Let's see if he can keep it up for another month.
Thursday on my show I had a chance to talk to Sports Illustrated's Joe Sheehan. Saying Joe writes for SI is doing him a disservice because his newsletter is where it's at. Of course I love SI, but SI doesn't have the space for Joe to expound as he does in the newsletter, so it's a different audience. But if you are baseball fan I cannot recommend it enough. You can check it out here.
Thursday we talked about baseball technology, Matt Harvey and pitcher controls, the playoff races and the end-of-season awards. We also agreed to have a playoff-team draft which will be featured in a newsletter coming soon.