Need to light a fuse? Is there a match?
A.J. Burnett was asked after last night’s game whether he somewhat expected the Pirates offense to be roused by his own nifty escape from a fifth-inning jam against the Braves.
“These guys don’t need a lot of spark,” A.J. said. “They go to the end every game. It just didn’t work out for us this time.”
But there have already been a lot of “this times” for the Bucs, especially their crack starters. In going six innings on a yield of two runs, Burnett tendered their seventh unrewarded quality-plus start. What’s quality-plus? I just made that up: Going six-plus innings and allowing no more than two earned runs (as opposed to three, for the standard quality start). The Bucs rotation has had 10 of those, and won only three of them.
Does the offense indeed need a spark? How long can you wait for it to catch up to the pitching?
This question becomes even more relevant today, as Bryce Harper joins the Nationals and Mike Trout joins the Angels. Washington called up its uber-prospect due to injury issues, so the Angels’ situation is more comparable to that of the Pirates — they’re languishing, and needed a pick-me-up.
The elephant in this room obviously is Starling Marte. It’s a touchy quandary for Neal Huntington, who among other things may be sensitive to repeating the Pedro Alvarez experience; the third baseman may yet get it right, but a lot of people feel his current problems are a reflection of the fact he’d been rushed to the Majors, merging into the Bucs lineup two years after being Drafted.
How do we know Marte wouldn’t turn out to be Jose Altuve instead? The little (5-foot-5) 22-year-old has lit a fuse under the Astros.
The Bucs want to expose Marte to enough Triple-A pitching so his bat is ready when he makes the jump but, ironically, his speed would be an immediate asset. Clint Hurdle knew his team was short on power and would have to make up for it with its legs, but that hasn’t been working out at all. Rather than run into big innings, the Bucs have been running themselves out of it. 12-for-22 in steal attempts isn’t cutting it.
The proven bats on this team will get hotter. But nobody will suddenly get faster.