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Snake in the Grass Q&A: Bucs Dugout

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We are going behind enemy lines

Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

I am extremely unoriginal and fail to come up with my own ideas. This week the Detroit Tigers SB Nation site, Bless You Boys, did a Q&A with our very own Clefo, and thunderpumpkin returned the favor and included a Q&A with Ashley from BYB in his series preview. I was intrigued by the idea so much that I decided to cross over into enemy territory and participate in their gameday thread for the first game in the series. We have decided to try something similar here at the Pit in order to encourage our members to respectfully interact with the other sites and learn about the other teams in the league we do not see as often. This may not take place every series because... do we really want to read about the Dodgers 8 times in a season? Please feel free to ask questions and interact with our sister sites. Do realize that their rules may be slightly different than what is allowed over here at the Pit.

Without further delay...

In this edition, we discuss a few topics with WTM from Bucs Dugout. The Pittsburgh Pirates enter the 4 game series at 14-20 after being swept by Dodgers in Los Angeles.

AZSP: First things first you guys don’t plunk Goldy in the hand, and we won’t hit McCutchen. Deal?

WTM: I don’t think McCutchen is going to be the target he used to be. And the guy who hit Goldy wasn’t trying. If he HAD tried to hit him, he’d have probably hit the first baseman instead. There’s a reason he hasn’t pitched in the majors for two years. So it should all be a non-issue.

AZSP: What’s the deal with the Pirates recent struggles? For the past few seasons, they always seemed to be in the hunt for the division title or wild card. Can it be attributed to a perfect storm of issues similar to the 2016 Diamondbacks?

WTM: Well, they lost Jung-Ho Kang to a DUI, Starling Marte to steroids, and Jameson Taillon to testicular cancer. That’s arguably three of the team’s five best players, the others being Gerrit Cole and Ivan Nova. There are a host of other issues, though. For one, they’ve had a huge problem with defensive blunders, really the kind of stuff you see in the low minors. Among other things, there’s been a string of errors and other misplays in the ninth inning of games like I’ve never seen before. (I know fans always say their teams lack fundamentals and that sort of thing, but seriously it’s been just bizarre.)

AZSP: Is there any hope for the Pirates to turn this season around or is it a lost cause? What are their reasons for optimism this season?

WTM: The case for optimism would be Kang returning around mid-season (nobody has a clue of the odds on him), Taillon not being out long, Marte coming back (which of course is definite in July), Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl continuing to develop, and a bunch of players who aren’t hitting at all now waking up, most notably Gregory Polanco. And of course McCutchen bounces back. The Pirates themselves insist that whatever indicators they look at (probably exit velocity and the like) show that some guys, such as McCutchen, Jordy Mercer and Francisco Cervelli should be putting up much better numbers. And the bench couldn’t possibly get any worse. And they will be getting David Freese and Adam Frazier back, possibly while they’re in Arizona. They’ve been the team’s two best hitters so far.

AZSP: The current face of the Pirates franchise, Andrew McCutchen, is in a similar position as Arizona’s own Paul Goldschmidt in that both are potential trade chips for two teams that may need to initiate a rebuild. Andrew has expressed in the past that he would like to be a Pirate for life. In the Pirate’s case, is it more beneficial to build around Cutch or flip him to kickstart a rebuild?

WTM: Unfortunately, McCutchen appears to be beyond that stage unless his hitting reverts to his old form, and does so in short order. He has an option for next year, but the Pirates certainly aren’t going to pay $18M to a guy who’s hitting like a fourth outfielder and is a defensive liability. And nobody is going to give up a return that’ll kickstart anything in exchange for him unless a big change in his hitting occurs in the next couple months. I’m sure they’d love to be in a position just to be able to make the call you’re positing, but they’re not.

AZSP: Outside of injuries there are also the off field struggles of Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte. After Marte’s suspension, the PED topic was once again discussed at the Pit. How do you feel about players that test positive for PED’s? Should there be harsher penalties or should they not be penalized at all? What was the reaction to Marte’s suspension and comments afterwards?

WTM: The reaction was shock. Marte was caught doing an old-fashioned steroid that’s easily detectable. The best thing you can say about it is that he probably wasn’t doing it for long or he’d have been caught long ago. (Or so I suppose, as I have no expertise on this subject.) Why a guy who already has a long-term contract would pull such a stupid move is baffling. I don’t, though, see much sentiment along the Buster Olney, howling-jackals, “he’s finished” sort of line. More like acceptance that the suspension is merited.

As for the penalties, I think they probably have it about right. It’s rare now for a player of any significance to get suspended. Maybe that’s because some players are defeating the testing system. I know some players have called for more stringent testing, which seems like a good idea. But there seems to be an assumption in some parts that the current system isn’t working, and I don’t really know what that’s based on. When the only players getting caught, for the most part, are struggling minor leaguers, the system is probably working pretty well. I’d want to see some data indicating that they’re not catching dopers before I concluded that a new level of penalties was needed. Even then, the more pressing issue would seem to be more effective testing, which is probably more of a technological issue than anything.

AZSP: How do the Pirates win the upcoming series versus the Diamondbacks? What are your predictions for the series?

WTM: The Pirates are playing really badly right now, worse than their record indicates, so optimism is a bit elusive. (And as I type this they’re already getting hammered early in the last LA game.) Their best-case scenario is that Cole pitches . . . well, the way he’s been pitching lately and somebody runs into one to get him the support he hasn’t been getting. Same thing with Nova. The starting pitching has almost always been the reason for their wins this year. And Glasnow takes another step toward becoming the overpowering guy we all hope he’ll be. Or they pile up runs -- for some reason, they’ve been scoring runs in droves just when he pitches, except for his last outing. The other game will be Trevor Williams, who’s just not ready for the majors, or somebody else unknown at this point. So the Pirates’ upside is probably three of four, but it’s really hard to see that happening, especially not against a team that’s been playing well.

A very special thanks to WTM of Bucs Dugout for participating on such short notice!