Top of lineup totally unproductive

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Reflections on the Pirates postseason -- thus far:

Players go into five-game mini-slumps all the time. For example, Andrew McCutchen, the likely National League MVP, was 1-for-16 during the crucial Sept. 19-23 stretch. Slumps like that can be gobbled up and ignored by the 162-game schedule. But when such slumps occur in the first five playoff games played by the Pirates since 1992 -- and stand completely alone -- well, they tend to get noticed.

That said, Starling Marte and Neil Walker, key contributors during the regular season, are doing virtually nothing in the post-season. Both players entered the postseason on a roll. But that roll had come to a dead stop.

* Marte was out from Aug. 18 to Sept 9 and, as expected, he started slowly when he returned. But he was 6-for-19 over his final five games and most felt he was ready to make significant contributions from the leadoff spot.

* In his final eight starts of the season, Walker was 11-for-33 (.333) with six home runs and eight RBIs. It was one of the best power stretches of his career.

In the postseason, Marte is 3-for-20 (.150) with a walk and seven strikeouts. Walker is 2-for-21 (.095) with a walk and four strikeouts.

Andrew McCutchen is batting .412 (7-for-17) but he doesn't have an RBI because he's batting behind the pitcher, Marte and Walker.

The Pirates decision to stay with Justin Morneau in the No. 4 spot might not be consequential considering the contributions of the players in front of him, but it remains a bizarre experiment.

Morneau is 5-for-20 (.250) in the postseason with a sickly .586 OPS. Since joining the Pirates, he is 25-for-97 (.258), which is not the problem. The problem is he has no home runs and three RBIs in those 97 at bats.

I'm not sure what is more baffling: Manager Clint Hurdle's decision to stay with Morneau as his No. 4 hitter in the face of this massive power outage? Or the support Hurdle's decision is receiving from so many fans?

If the problem is keeping the left-handed batters and the right-handed batters separated, then bat Marlon Byrd fourth, Pedro Alvarez fifth, Russell Martin sixth and Morneau seventh. But to continue to have such a sorry run producer in the middle of the lineup is inexplicable.

Morneau is going to snap this slump one of these days. Let's hope it happens in October and not April.

If there is a real offensive hero in this postseason, it's not Alvarez or Byrd, whose excellent contributions have been somewhat expected, but Martin, whose timely power hitting has been totally unexpected.

Martin staggered into this postseason seemingly a spent man with the bat. He hit .207 with a .651 OPS since the All-Star Game and, much worse, .127 (8-for-63) and .436 in September. He was in the lineup for the remarkable defensive contributions he brings to the team. No one, based on his recent showing, had reason to expect anything but an occasional hit in the playoffs.

But look at him go! He's 5-for-14 with two homers, six RBIs and three walks. He is tied for first in RBIs, second to McCutchen in batting average and on-base percentage and second to Alvarez in slugging percentage, OPS and home runs.

Right up there with Martin in terms of rising to the occasion is the Pirates bullpen. Like Martin, it was struggling toward the end of the season. Unlike Martin, some -- including this writer -- thought the bullpen could be detrimental to the team's success.

It has been the opposite. In 17 1/3 innings, almost two games, Pirates relievers have allowed two earned runs and 12 hits while walking three and striking out 12. That's an ERA 1.04 and a WHIP 0.87.


First Published October 7, 2013 9:38 PM


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