At 36-41, the Pirates sit last in the NL Central, trailing the first-place Cubs by six games.
Although that's not ideal on the surface, the team is just four games out of a Wild Card spot, and is gaining positive momentum, going 6-4 over the past 10, including a recent three-game sweep of the Padres at PNC Park.
Mathematically, you just can't rule the Pirates out yet, and their play on the field of late has only supported that notion. That leaves them with a decision as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. Do they try to add players in an effort to "win now" and make a push? Or do they sell and try to build for the future?
That remains to be seen.
"We’re in a situation where we’ve played, what, 20-plus games against the teams we’re trailing in the division," Pirates GM Neal Huntington was recently saying. "We are getting healthy. The offense has turned a nice corner. The pitching, when we get back to what we were in April, we’re going to be an interesting club and a fun club. So yes, it’s early to decide if we’re going to add to this year’s club or look to add to next year’s, future clubs beyond that."
Making matters trickier, this Pirates team boasts variables that would make an algebra teacher weak. They've been injured and inconsistent. Their pitching's been phenomenal then disastrous. Their hitting's been anemic then robust. They've put four of their five starting pitchers on the IL, with Jameson Taillon still there for the foreseeable future. Effective rookie relief-pitcher Nick Burdi is out for the year.
It all makes for a complicated decision at the top.
"When you list off everything that this club’s had work against it — some self-created, myself included, and some not self-created — and to still be within striking distance, to still be within a good two-week run of a division lead and some very good teams ahead of us, it speaks to the resilience and it speaks to what could come together," Huntington said. "Now, we have to make it come together and again, as I said before, we have a stretch of really interesting games going into the All-Star break. Now would be a good time to play really well and close the gap and put us in a good spot.”
After sweeping the Padres, the Pirates lost Tuesday to the Astros, and it is the team's current road trip — three games apiece against the Astros and the Brewers — that could determine its fate.
"You don't want to overreact to a good five- or 10-game stretch or you don't want to overreact to a not-so-good five- or 10-game stretch, but this is an important stretch of games for us against teams we're chasing," Huntington said.
Last season, the Pirates made a strong push before the All-Star Game and wound up buying at the deadline, acquiring Chris Archer on the heels of a 15-4 stretch that launched optimism about the team to the stratosphere. That trade sent Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz to the Rays, a move that is now largely criticized by fans and media alike.
That, however, won't totally discourage the club from trying again, a point noted by Huntington.
"If we could've hit in April, we'd be having a different conversation right now. And if we pitched [recently] the way we pitched in April, we'd be having a different conversation right now," Huntington was saying. "That's where you want to continue to grab a hold of that. We've shown good pitching, we've shown good offense. We've got some young guys that are coming into their own. We've got some veteran players who are turning a corner. We got some guys that are coming back from injury, and you do... you want to respect that you don't get a chance to get near the postseason every year. You have to earn that, and you want to respect that. You also want to respect this team's resiliency and fight.
"At the same time, we have to walk that fine line: Do we add to this year's club or do we look to add to next year's and future year's clubs? Last year, we attempted to do both and we'll be open to many different constructs this year."
Listen to the full session with Huntington here:
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