Pirates OF Starling Marte suspended 80 games without pay after testing positive for Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing substance.
— MLB (@MLB) April 18, 2017
The Pirates were 6-7 and 2 games out of 1st place at the time of that tweet. 40 games later, they sit at 24-29. That is good enough for last place in the NL Central and 3.5 games behind the first place Brewers.
The Pirates’ offense has scored 207 runs (12th in NL). Their run differential is -37 (12th in NL). Luckily, the Pirates have been aided by some average pitching (8th in NL in runs against) and some poor play by their NL Central counterparts.
When the Pirates lost Marte, they lost their best offensive weapon. Marte put up a 4.6 fWAR last year and slashed .311/.362/.456. He won his 2nd consecutive Gold Glove, and swiped a career high 47 bases. The loss stung even more when you combined it with the fact that the Pirates biggest power bat, Jung Ho Kang, is basically stuck in South Korea and unable to get a visa.
What needed to happen for the Pirates to weather the storm of these 80 games was for others to pick up the slack. Adam Frasier looked like he was about to do that, but then he had to go on the disabled list. However, he is back and picking up where he left off. David Freese also looked like he was going to pick up the slack, yet he also went on a trip to the DL and hasn’t really looked the same since coming back. Andrew McCutchen, outside of the last week, has been basically replacement level. And just when it looked like Gregory Polanco was turning it on, he got sent to the disabled list.
To the Pirates’ benefit, the NL Central has been bad. The Cubs’ don’t look anything like the team from last year. The Cardinals are completely average. The Brewers right now have been the ones to capitalize on these incidents, but even they don’t look like they can have long-term success.
I’ll have to admit, if you would have told me that the Pirates would have gone 18-22 in the first 40 games of Marte’s suspension, I would have probably taken it. But it’s time for others to step up, or this team is quickly going to be out of this race that they are so very lucky to still be in. It’s only a matter of time before the Cubs start rolling, which means the clock is ticking to make a move in the standings.
This season is about to go in one of two ways. Either this team is going to hang in the race and Marte could provide a big shot in the arm when he comes back, or the Pirates are going to have to start thinking about selling off a few of their assets at the deadline. It will be mid-July when Marte comes back. The picture on where this team stands should be a lot more clear at that point.