Bob Smizik: Early disappointments, surprises

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With their split last night against Cincinnati -- winning the suspended game, 8-7, before losing, 7-5 -- the Pirates are 7-7 and in third place in the NL Central, three games out of first. It’s way too early to make much of anything of the season but soon enough to proclaim some players pleasant surprises and others minor disappointments. Of course, these designations could be reversed in a matter of days.

Top five surprises

5. Jason Grilli: When he had a shaky second outing versus the Cubs and when he failed to notch a strikeout in his first three appearances, it looked like Grilli had not snapped his late 2013 injury/slump. But in his past three starts, including a save yesterday, he has struck out five in three innings and looks more like the Grilli of old.

4. Travis Snider: Given an opportunity, possibly his last, Snider has responded with three home runs, a .510 slugging percentage and a .818 OPS. Can you say "dripping with power"?

3. Gaby Sanchez: The much-maligned first baseman can barely get on the field, what with the steady dose of right-handed starters the Pirates are seeing. But in limited opportunities, 23 at-bats, he has two homers, four RBIs, a .700 slugging percentage and a 1.064 OPS. So, yes, he is Mr. OPS!

2. Neil Walker: He has five home runs, tied for second in the NL, a .582 slugging percentage and a .892 OPS. More than that, he hit a home run last night against a left-handed pitcher, the first time he has done that since 2011. He is 3-for-8 against lefties this season.

1. Edinson Volquez: The back-end-of-the-rotation reclamation project merely has been the Pirates' best pitcher, outperforming the likes of Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano. His 1.29 ERA is fifth-best in the NL, his 0.79 WHIP is fourth best. Not bad for a pitcher who had a 5.71 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 2013. His BB/9 is 1.94, down from 4.87 in 2013.

Top 5 disappointments

5. Starling Marte: His batting is pretty standard for him, but his strikeout total is not. He has 25 whiffs in 14 games, which puts him on pace to strike out 289 times. The single-season record is 223. Marte is making Pedro Alvarez look like a contact hitter.

4. Pedro Alvarez: His five home runs are a major plus, but they have produced only 10 RBIs. That’s because he has a .170 batting average to go along with a .290 on-base percentage.

3. Jordy Mercer: With a hit in three at-bats last night, he raised his batting average to .158 and his on-base percentage to .184. Mercer mashed lefties last season (.410 BA) and the Pirates have faced only one as a starter this season. Inexplicably, in that game against Chicago’s Travis Wood, Mercer was not in the starting lineup.

2. Wandy Rodriguez: There’s not much to like about a 7.31 ERA (102nd in the NL), and a 1.56 WHIP. Or six home runs (tops in the NL) or a 1.004 OPS-against (104th in the league).

1. Andrew McCutchen: It’s not that the NL MVP is awful, it’s just that’s he’s not putting up the numbers that have come to be expected from him. Opposing pitchers are working carefully to him and his 11 walks were second in the NL. The walks, not much else, have his OPS at .764.


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