By John Perrotto
Sometimes the numbers paint a clearer picture than words.
The Pirates are scoring 3.89 runs a game, 0.21 below the National League average, which puts them 12th among the league’s 16 teams. They are also 12th in batting average (.245) and on-base percentage (.312), 13th in slugging percentage (.362) and 14th in OPS (.674).
Yet the Pirates are the surprise team of baseball with a 51-45 record, putting them in first place in the National League Central by .001 percentage points ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers (53-47). However, if a franchise noted for having some of the greatest hitters in the game’s history is to make an amazing worst-to-first transformation one year after losing 105 games, it won’t because of scoring plenty of runs.
“We are looking for every way possible to strengthen the ballclub offensively,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Some of those are internal. Some are external.”
The Pirates have been linked in trade rumors to such outfielders as the Houston Astros’ Hunter Pence, the New York Mets’ Carlos Beltran and the Oakland Athletics’ Josh Willingham in recent days. However, it appears none of them are headed to Pittsburgh, though things can change at any moment with the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline just nine days away.
Pence? The Astros’ asking price is, uh, astronomical as it starts with low Class A West Virginia right-hander Jameson Taillon, a Houston native and the Pirates’ top prospect.
Beltran? Ownership doesn’t want to spend the $7.5 million left on his contract or move a top tier prospect for what could be a two-month rental if the Pirates don’t make the postseason.
Willingham? The Pirates fear that knee problems could make him unable to play every day down the stretch.
The Pirates have instead decided to set their sights lower in pursuing outside help, targeting Athletics right fielder David DeJesus.
The 31-year-old left-handed hitters is having a miserable year with a .229 batting average, five home runs, 25 RBIs, a .287 on-base percentage and a .345 slugging percentage in 85 games.
Yet Pirates’ scouts are convinced that DeJesus is swinging the bat better than his statistics indicate and the organization’s numbers crunchers also believe he can help, pointing to his .263 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The major-league BABIP average this season is .291 and the Pirates feel DeJesus being 28 points under that mark is a sign he is hitting in tough luck.
Furthermore, the Pirates point to his .285 career batting average in eight seasons and a .311 mark in 85 games last year with the Kansas City Royals as another reason to believe he is primed for a strong finish.
The Pirates are confident they can also get plenty of offensive reinforcements from inside the organization.
Shortstop Ronny Cedeno is expected to be in the lineup Friday night when the Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of a three-game series between division contenders at PNC Park. The Cardinals are in third place, only one game behind the Pirates. Cedeno, who has been on the disabled list with a concussion, went 4-for-15 (.267) with one double, one triple and one RBI in four games on a rehabilitation assignment with Class AAA Indianapolis.
Catcher Ryan Doumit begin a rehab assignment at high Class A Bradenton on Thursday night and went 1-for-3 with a double and two strikeouts. He has been out since breaking his ankle on May 29.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez could be recalled from Indianapolis at some point next week during the Pirates’ seven-game road trip to Atlanta and Philadelphia. Alvarez is hitting .327 with two home runs, 10 RBIs, a .429 on-base percentage and a .481 slugging percentage since being sent down earlier this month.
While the Pirates wait for the cavalry, they will try to muddle through offensively as best they can.
“We have missed the big hit,” Hurdle said. “You give people at-bats, and there’s some who perform above your expectations, some who are right where you thought they’d be and we’ve got some guys who really aren’t providing what we thought. It’s challenging at times. We know what we have. We don’t have much room for error as far as execution.”
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 24 years and is the national writer for Baseball Prospectus.