Pirates notebook: Few more wins alters direction of season, GM Huntington says
Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington did the math, and he said Sunday one more victory every month would have changed the course of this season.
It might not have given the Pirates’ their first playoff berth since 2015, but it would have put them within striking distance.
The Pirates will take a 78-76 record into their season-ending, two-city, seven-game road trip that starts Monday in Chicago and ends next Sunday in Cincinnati.
One more victory a month would have given the Pirates an 84-70 record, still behind the St. Louis Cardinals (87-69), whose 9-2 victory against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday officially eliminated the Pirates from playoff contention. The Cardinals are currently the second wild-card team behind the Milwaukee Brewers.
Huntington also dared to dream beyond one more victory a month.
“If we win two games a month more, we’re fighting for a division (with 90 victories, one short of the National League Central-leading Cubs’ 91).”
But how would they have won those games?
“It’s a good question,” Huntington said. “I wish there were one simple answer. It’s me being better. It’s our coaching staff being better. It’s each individual player driving to get better. It’s maturation of a young team.
“There is a lot of room for improvement. You go around the offense, and in just about every spot, except maybe catcher, there is rational, reasonable belief that we can be better offensively in each one of those spots. Will we be? Well, that’s the goal.”
What about Kang?
Huntington said it’s too early to predict whether Jung Ho Kang will be with the Pirates in spring training next year.
“Still to be determined. We’re still working through exactly where he fits,” Huntington said.
Kang is playing in Instructional League games in Bradenton, Fla., but Huntington cautioned, “It’s a big jump from Instructional League games to a major league game.”
The Pirates are ending the season with four key members of the pitching staff shut down or on the disabled list. That includes starters Chad Kuhl, who won’t return until 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Joe Musgrove, who is suffering from right side abdominal discomfort. Also, relief pitchers Keone Kela (elbow) and Edgar Santana (forearm) won’t pitch the rest of the season. Santana will have an MRI to determine the extent of the injury.
“Some of these are us being proactive,” Huntington said. “Joe was the first one to say he would pitch through this if the circumstances were different.
“In Keone’s case, this was us recognizing workload and volume and putting him in a best position to be successful next year.”
Kela pitched 52 innings with 66 strikeouts between the Pirates and Texas Rangers.
“In Chad’s situation, he tried to battle through the issue, and we took the right path, which is a conservative path of treatment (no immediate surgery),” Huntington said. “Those who have never had Tommy John can always say Tommy John is the best path and get it now because you get better quicker.
“Those are people who have never had it and those are people who never will have it and don’t understand how arduous the rehab is and how much goes into recovering from TJ surgery.
“The easy criticism is you should have done it earlier. Sometimes, when you have the initial conservative path, it doesn’t work and sometimes it works really well and guys end up never needing surgery.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.