Storylines for the last seven weeks;
-- The continuing growth of Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and Pedro.
Tabata is hitting .306/.358/.402 with 2 HR and 14 2B, 31 runs and 11-for-16 stealing bases. When he learns to hit lefties (oddly, his split is .329 against righties, .250 against southpaws) he'll be a monster at the top of the order. And even with that almost 80 point BA gap, his OBP is almost even: .359/RHP, .357/LHP.
He's K'ed 28 times and walked 17, so while he's patient, there's still room for his discipline to improve.
Walker is an equal opportunity hitter; his lines are .310/.352/.435 against RHP and .288/.333/.485 against LHP. He can also use a bit of discipline at the dish, with 49 K to 15 BB.
Alvarez is matching up well against righties, with a .265/.339/.541 line, but has miles to go against lefties, with .203/.273/.333 clip. 8 of his 10 homers are against righties, and he has 22 RBI vs 8 against LHP. The best cure is to keep running him out against lefties until he quits biting on the slider away.
He'll always be a big strikeout guy, but he needs to improve his eye and take a walk when they give it to him. Still, he's the most promising power hitter since Jay Bay or Brian Giles, and has a knack for the clutch hit.
-- Finding some starting pitching. James McDonald and Ross Ohlendorf have the stuff to succeed and can use these last dozen or so starts to establish themselves going into 2011. The rest of the staff is pedestrian, and that's in keeping with their track records. Zach Duke has a career 4.42 ERA, Paul Maholm's is 4.41, and Jeff Karstens ERA is 4.93 lifetime. As pitch to contact throwers, there's not much upside to the trio. What you see is what you get.
-- Can Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan close the deal? Hanny is off to rough start as a closer, reverting to his Nat days, and Meek hasn't faced that pressure yet. These closing weeks will tell the Pirates where they stand in that regard, and if they need help. Danny Moskos is bombing at Indy, so there's no closer that looks ready for the show yet in the system.
Sean Gallagher, Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, and Wil Ledezema are all auditioning for spots in next year's pen; their performance will dictate if the suits bring in a posse of relievers again, as they they did this season, or just look for a couple of quality guys. Jose Ascanio will be back in September, and Neal Cotts will be looking to bounce back from surgery in 2011.
-- Is Lastings Milledge an everyday player? His righty/lefty split is .262/.282 lifetime, and .259/.314 in 2010. So his career stats indicate that he can play everyday; we think the tinkering with his swing to make him an opposite field hitter has taken away his power, although it's jumped his LHP average.
He's got the lowest fly ball and home run rate of his career this season. Thrilledge also has his lowest K rate and highest BB rate of his career; it's obvious Donnie Long has him sitting back on the ball to see it better and make more contact.
But make no mistake; to play everyday, he's going to have to turn on the ball and show some power; McCutch and Tabata look to be 15 HR guys, and someone in the corner outfield - and with PNC as a home park, that's RF - has to be able to muscle up.
-- Is Ronny Cedeno the answer at short? He's maddeningly inconsistent both at bat and in the field, but has put together a strong month and is a beast when he's hot. If he can hold the fort for a couple of season, it gives the Jordy Mercer, Chase d'Arnaud, Brian Friday, Brock Holt gang some time to hone their game.
At least this can be said of him: he's on the field. With Jack Splat's continued health problems at Seattle, the Pirates made the swap just in time to have at worst a bridge in place for the young guys, and at best an upside player who's beginning to figure it out.
-- Are Garrett Jones and Dewey gone this winter? Jones proved that he's a MLB player this year, but not a true middle-of-the order guy. On contending teams with better balanced lineups, he's an ideal six hitter or platoon guy; he only has a .287 OBP against lefties.
If the Pirates get out of Jeff Clements what they saw when they traded for him, Jones should have nice value over the winter as a lefty with better than average pop and a versatile glove.
Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder are too expensive as a catcher's tandem; the Pirates are hoping that Dewey can can rebuild some market value as an OF/C over the next two months. If not, they'll be paying $5.1 M in 2011 for a platoon right fielder.