The Pirates appear to be in line to make the playoffs after tonight's 1-0 win over the Braves. After how bad the Pirates were early this season and their season long inability to sweep teams, I never thought they were going to make the playoffs. Yet, the Pirates are going to do it. And they did it without trading for anyone.
The Tigers traded big as did the A's. The Angels did it, and the traditional way of thinking is that you have to upgrade your team to make the stretch run. The Pirates have upgraded without trades, but it is still an upgrade. Well their was the one early season trade to rid them of Grilli, but that was arguably not a good trade.
The Pirates relied on their farm system to upgrade them rather than deplete the farm system for rental players as the Royals did last year. The knew that Gregory Polanco was coming, but after an initial help, he really fell off the radar and was later demoted. But his help was there for an important stretch. They trusted Jeff Locke and Brandon Crumpton could get the job done in the rotation and they did just fine. And let us not overlook the trade right before the season to acquire Vance Worley for cash. Worley sat in AAA for the year and came ready to pitch, and he has done so.
The masterful use of the waiver wire is what the Pirates excelled at this year. When the Pirates had trouble with Alvarez, they were able to use the wire to grab Brent Morel. Now that does not sound like much, but Morel could defend 3B and plugged the emergency back up role just fine while Harrison took over the hot corner. When they needed to replace Barmes as the emergency back up short stop, they did that over the wire too. No panic, just use the waiver wire to get what you need. No need to trade for a SS or a 3B, just waiver wire. Even better appears to be the use of the wire to pick up LaFrombose, a lefty specialist. Now this was done near the end of the year, but could pay dividends in the playoffs. He will be available to add to the team if extra left handers are needed.
Now the real gem is of course Holdzkom. Holdzkom was found by the scouts in independent ball, and is now a legitimate late innings pitcher. Take tonight for example. He pitched the 8th in a 1 run game during the stretch run for the playoffs. There is little doubt that Holdzkom becomes the the 7th inning man for the playoffs. And he will be back for the next year strengthening the bullpen, which was a clear weakness early in the season. Holdzkom will simply take Stolmy Pimentel's place who the Pirates successfully hid all year on the roster. Not often are playoff contenders able to hid guys who have no options left on the roster all year if they are not actually contributors.
The Pirates nice stretch by the Pirates is proof that the trade deadline is a bit overrated. Teams often ought to trust their roster and trust their farm system.
If anything the contrast between the A's and the Pirates ought to be stark. One made a blockbuster trade that moved a starting player and some minor leaguers for a front line starting pitcher for the rest of the season, and the Pirates absorbed criticism and stood pat. The A's are limping down the stretch and have gone from the best team in the majors before the all star break to barely making the playoffs. The Pirates went from third in their division and behind several teams to in the playoffs and challenging for the top wild card spot, and while they are going to come up a little short on the NL central title, they gave it a run.
This was an impressive display from the Pirates this year, especially their front office.