The Pirates have played really well this season. They're just three games behind the powerhouse Cardinals in the National League Central, and they're tied with the Braves for the third-best record (41-28) in the league. They're not perfect, though. The Pirates have outscored their opponents by just 18 runs, largely because they rank just 10th in the league in scoring. Part of that's the ballpark, but most isn't.
The Pirates hitting problems aren't hard to diagnose. For one thing, they've got just one outstanding hitter (Andrew McCutchen) on the roster and that's not likely to change. They do have subpar hitters in first baseman Garrett Jones and right fielder Travis Snider; the good news there is that both players have productive platoon partners (Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata). The other problem is far more glaring: shortstop Clint Barmes, a fine defensive player whose hitting relegates him to replacement-level status.
The Pirates lived with Barmes last season because he wasn't a complete zero with the bat, and because they didn't have anyone better. This season he's been a complete zero with the bat, and the Pirates do have someone better. So Barmes, who's earning $5.5 million this season, has lost his every-day job ...
Clint Hurdle said Jordy Mercer will receive the lion's share of work going forward at shortstop— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) June 17, 2013
This has already happened, actually, as Mercer's started four of the Pirates' last five games. But it's the kind of thing you can easily miss if you don't follow a team every day. And this is an excellent sign for the Corsairs' future. Mercer, a third-round draft pick five years ago, probably won't ever be a good hitter. But he should be decent, at least, and he might well leave the Pirates without a single glaring weak spot, as long as the platoons hold.
Considering their run differential, A.J. Burnett's injury and the ephemeral nature of Jeff Locke's success, I remain skeptical about the Bucs' postseason prospects. And while they probably should have gone with Mercer on Opening Day, at least they're finally bowing to the inevitable. Which is more than you can say for some clubs.