The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a nice story this season, making a run at a winning record and having flirted with the playoffs for a longer stretch of time than anyone anticipated. The longshot bid for the postseason probably went by the boards for good with a crushing Friday night loss in Milwaukee. But at 64-66 coming into Sunday, the chase for a winning season is still very much in play. And more important, the franchise has been placed on strong footing going into next year. The biggest reason is the development of the pitching.
Jameson Taillon has already gone through a lot at the age of 26. He’s gone from can’t-miss prospect to having testicular cancer. With the cancer a couple years in the rearview mirror, Taillon appears healthy and ready to fulfill the optimistic hopes for his career. He’s got a 3.49 ERA in 26 starts.
Two other young arms have emerged to strengthen the rotation. Trevor Williams, age 25, has made twenty-five starts and posted a 3.44 ERA. Joe Musgrove, also 25, has gotten his shot in the rotation and made the most of it. He’s got a 3.56 ERA in his fifteen times to the post.
The emergence of Taillon, along with the development of Williams and Musgrove have allowed veteran Ian Nova to take his more natural place at the back end of a rotation where he’s a reliable cog. There’s also hope for another arms to emerge—Chad Kuhl is another good young arm who’s dealt with injuries this year. It’s possible he might make it back in September and a few good starts would be a nice way to go into the offseason.
Clint Hurdle has also remade the bullpen. He’s found his closer in lefty Felipe Vazquez and put together an array of quality arms in front of him. Edgar Santana, Richard Rodriguez and Kyle Crick are all young and all have ERAs in the mid-2s.
This alone would be enough to justify optimism on the banks of the Allegheny, but the Pirates made moves that were surprisingly aggressive at the trade deadline. They added Chris Archer from Tampa Bay, a quality starter in his prime. Pittsburgh strengthened the bullpen with Keone Kela, a live young arms whose ERA is 0.75 since coming to the Pirates.
A market like Pittsburgh isn’t easy to win consistently in and when the Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen prior to this season, 2018 had the looks of a lost year. It’s been anything but. The Pirates at least gave their fans some playoff dreams until football season could take over. They may still win more than they lose, which would be extremely impressive. And they have every reason to feel good going into 2019, regardless of what happens the rest of the way.