Jones latest black hole

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In the run-up to the trading deadline last month, the conventional wisdom concerning the Pirates' gaping hole in right field was that a first baseman or an outfielder could solve the problem. If the Pirates acquired a first baseman, they'd simply move Garrett Jones to right field.

Those were the days. Garrett Jones, one-time solution, is now part of the problem.

Jones was hitless in four at bats -- including a strikeout with the bases loaded in the first inning -- last night in the Pirates' 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. The loss knocked a game off the Pirates lead as both St. Louis and Cincinnati won.

But while the Pirates must, of course, keep their eye on the target -- qualifying for the postseason -- it's pretty much a foregone conclusion they'll make it and they must also be preparing to win the postseason.

Considering what they have at first base and right field, the Pirates do not match up well with the elite teams. Most of them, like the Pirates, have quality pitching but also, unlike the Pirates, quality hitters. At two power positions the Pirates are lacking production and pretty much everything else offensively. That Jones had dipped into a monster late-season funk only exacerbates their problems.

Jones is without a hit in his past 19 at bats. For the month, despite being in a situation where he always faces right-handed pitching, he's batting .122 with a .228 on-base percentage, a .245 slugging percentage and a .473 OPS. He has one home run and five RBIs since July 21. For the season, his line is .239/.295/.409 -- .704, which is not nearly good enough.

Which left the Pirates with this unproductive outfield last nigh: Jones in right, Andrew McCutchen in center and . . .

Among the dozen or so names advanced as a possible solution to the Pirates problems -- from Alex Rios to Nate Schierholtz to Justin Morneau -- a name never mentioned -- never mentioned in his wildest dreams -- was Felix Pie. But there was Pie batting first, playing left field and an instrumental figure in the game.

How did this happen? What was a player, who has not been in MLB for two years and who did little to distinguish himself in the minors this season, doing starting in the heat of a pennant race? And where was Andrew Lambo?

Lambo, remember, was the possible solution in right-field. He led the minors in home runs with 31. Fans were clamoring for his arrival. The Pirates finally agreed eight days ago -- which was five days before he was returned to the minors.

The Pirates might have outsmarted themselves on this one. It was a tough call, when the team needed an additional pitcher to bolster their depleted bullpen, between Lambo and Josh Harrison. Harrison had the advantage of versatility on a short bench, but Lambo was a possible solution to the team's most glaring weakness -- an epic lack of power in right field. This was supposed to be his time.

The Pirates returned Lambo to Indianapolis Sunday, which meant, barring an injury, he could not return for 10 days. Which meant once the Pirates bullpen regrouped, last night, Lambo was ineligible to be recalled.

Which led to this: Pie, with a .251 batting average and a .715 OPS in the minors, starting for the Pirates and Lambo, with a .273 BA and a .919 OPS, starting in Indy. Crazy stuff!

Pie had a hit, worked a walk and scored the Pirates only run in the eighth. The two San Diego runs both scored on close plays at the plate as Pie made good, but not good enough throws.

There appears to be no solution to the Pirates offensive deficiencies. Jose Tabata has played well, between injuries, in right field but he brings almost no power. Jones and Gaby Sanchez have been disappointing at first base with too little production from key spots in the lineup.

Morneau is said to be available but at a dear cost in prospects, which GM Neal Huntington simply will not do.

The great pennant race continues. It looks like a long and grueling final six weeks. And a short postseason.



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