The failure/refusal of general manager Neal Huntington to upgrade the team's offense at the trade deadline or since is looming large these days as the Pirates struggle to score with a lineup that is overrun with easy outs.
As they stand today, with Starling Marte on the disabled list, the Pirates do not appear to have the necessary offense to stave off the challenges of St. Louis and Cincinnati or to do much of anything in the postseason.
Manager Clint Hurdle has no hand to play. He consistently must send out a lineup that simply is not good enough. Pitching has carried the Pirates thus far and it looks like it will have to do even more in the days ahead if the team is to have success in the playoffs.
There was no predicting Marte's injury. But Huntington did little to prepare for such an emergency by carrying a light bench all season. Marte's injury fully exposed the Pirates lack of depth among position players. They're knee deep in starters and relievers, but have next to nothing to help the team's offense.
There are no guarantees and that includes Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins. But Morneau has seven home runs this month, three more than Pedro Alvarez, and an .877 OPS. For the season, against right-handed pitching, Morneau has an .823 OPS, which would be third on the Pirates.
It's fairly obvious the Twins asking price for Morneau is prohibitive. Less obvious, but possibly equally as true, is the depth of the Pirates motivation to make such a deal. Not only is this franchise risk-averse, but few, if any, will look back on this season as anything but a smashing success, even if the Pirates don't get past the one-and-done wild-card game.
The franchise is on the way to its second-highest attendance in history. This could set up record-breaking attendance next season. Why mortgage the future when the financial future is so rosy?
A large problem for the Pirates is not so much they have too many outs in the lineup but that some of those outs are in the middle of it. That would be Alvarez and Garrett Jones, the team's No. 4 and No. 6 hitters.
• Alvarez: The 31 home runs are good, but his consistency is not. He is a No. 4 hitter out of necessity, not performance. Pick your Pedro poison: He's batting .197 (28-for-142) since the All-Star Game and .198 (17-for-86) for August. That's the kind of consistency no one wants to see. He has four home runs this month and stands in with a season-long OPS of .774. The NL average for No. 4 hitters is .797.
• Jones: He is giving the team almost nothing and Hurdle doesn't have a legitimate option. Jones is batting .188 (18-for-96) since the All-Star Game and .121 (7-for-58) in August. His season-long OPS is down to .703. Sanchez is not an option. He is batting barely over .200 against right-handers and with little power.
Outfielder Jose Tabata, who was hitless in the Pirates' 4-0 loss to San Francisco yesterday, has played well since becoming a regular. But considering Tabata's lackluster history, it's easy to see him being unable to maintain when he's done recently. That scenario was bad enough when Tabata was the team's No. 3 outfielder. But with Marte down, he's No. 2 and there appears to be no viable option to handle the third position.
Rookie Andrew Lambo is being given a look based on his 32 minor-league home runs. He might turn into another Bob (Hurricane) Hazle whose legendary feats propelled a Milwaukee Braves pennant drive in 1957. Or he might be another Travis Snider.
If that isn't depressing enough, if Lambo fails, next in line, after Snider, are Felix Pie and Alex Presley.
Andrew McCutchen is in the midst of a heroic August with 1.157 OPS. But he's not getting enough help. Worse, it looks like there's no help on the way.