The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez hitting a three-run homer against the Cardinals in July.
By Bob Smizik Special to the Post-Gazette
Suggestions that the Pirates are in the midst of their third consecutive collapse are preposterous. They are 8-9 in this final month of the season. That is not collapse mode.
Pedro Alvarez, however ... now there's a collapse mode.
The man with the second highest number of home runs in the National League is contributing next to nothing these days and that has been the case for around two months.
Check out these batting lines for Alvarez:
Batting avg / on-base pct. / slugging pct. / OPS
Since the All-Star Game: .194/.259/.387 -- .646
August: .208/.267/.443 -- .710
September: .164/.242/.201 -- .533.
Before the All-Star Game, he homered every 12.7 at bats. Since the ASB, he is homering ever 24.1 at bats. He has one home run in September, inside-the-park, and two since Aug. 19.
Others are not performing well. Neil Walker is having a terrible month, .138 with a .401 OPS, but he, at least, had a strong August -- .305 with an .821 OPS. Russell Martin is faltering badly, too, batting .100 (4-for-40) in September and .212 since the All-Star Game. But Martin batted .211 last year. His early-season performance was an unexpected bonus.
Alvarez is the player most missing in action. He can carry a team and one of his hot streaks is precisely what the Pirates need. They have scored 53 runs this month, 14th in the National League and better only than the New York Mets. Their OPS of .650 is 13th and down 53 points from their season total.
No one can expect Andrew McCutchen to continue his heroics for the finals days of the season. Others must step up and Alvarez is the player most due to produce.
The Pirates are in desperate -- that's not an overstatement -- need of a win this afternoon against the San Diego, which makes the turn in the rotation of Gerrit Cole most fortuitous. Cole has been excellent in his past three starts -- what people expected from his pedigree as the first pick in the 2011 draft.
He's won three straight with minimal offensive support -- beating Milwaukee, 4-3, on Sept 3, Texas 1-0, on Sept. 9 and the Cubs, 2-1, on Sept. 14. He pitched 20 innings and allowed three earned runs. In his two most recent starts, he pitched 14 innings and allowed one earned run and struck out 16 while walking five.
Cole has displayed the coolness of a veteran in these recent starts. He just turned 23, but acts much older. He has a significant amount of pressure on him today, perhaps as much as any time in his pitching career.
Criticisms of manager Clint Hurdle for replacing Charlie Morton, who had allowed one run on three hits while striking out nine, with Mark Melancon in the ninth inning last night are absent of merit for two reasons.
• Melancon has been one of the most effective closers in the league since being thrust into the role by the injury to Jason Grilli in July.
• Morton had thrown 99 pitches. The most he had thrown this season was was 104. To send him out for the ninth inning would almost certainly have him eclipse his season-high total. For a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, that would be a most foolish risk.
Fans pining for a complete game are living in the past. That's not how the game is played today. Asking for complete games is somewhat akin to expecting football players to play on offense and defense, as they did long ago.