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Is Gerrit Cole the Missing Link to Finally Getting Pirates Into the Playoffs?

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Is Gerrit Cole the Missing Link to Finally Getting Pirates Into the Playoffs?
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Rookie Gerrit Cole has gotten off to a great start in his career.

Looking to finish the 2013 MLB season with a winning record for the first time in 21 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have called up phenom Gerrit Cole. However, he isn't the missing piece that will get them into the playoffs.

Pittsburgh is currently in third place in the National League Central. It has been there for most of the season, and it will need to win a wild-card spot if it hopes to reach the postseason this year.

The Pirates have been in contention and above .500 late in the season for two straight year but have collapsed both times to extend their historic streak. They finished the 2011 season by going 18-41 and went 16-36 to finish the 2012 season after being 16 games above .500 in early August. The 2011 collapse marked the greatest fall from first place ever, and the 2012 collapse was shockingly worse.

It's a new season, but the Pirates have to prove that they can win throughout an entire season before anyone takes them seriously. Having back-to-back historic collapses will be tough to overcome.

Luckily, the Pirates have the third-best pitching staff in baseball. 

Injuries have forced the Pirates to use 11 different starters, but they continue to put up big numbers.

Cole has pitched fairly well in his first two starts. He has a 2-0 record and has not allowed more than three runs in either start. The right-hander has averaged six innings per start, and he has yet to walk a batter.

Command has always been a concern for the phenom, but it hasn't been a problem through two starts.

The 2011 No.1 overall pick has an exceptional fastball. Not many starters can throw 100 mph, but that's one of Cole's strengths. He has a good slider to go with the heater.

ESPN Stats & Info provided a stat that shows the rookie has already made history through two starts:

Those two pitchers were Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Cole is 22 years old, and there is already a lot of pressure on him to lead this team to the postseason at some point. 

That being said, Cole, no matter how great he is, will not be enough to get the Pirates into the playoffs. The team's offense needs to step up in a big way if Pittsburgh wants to be playing in the postseason.

Pittsburgh's offense ranks near the bottom of the league in runs scored. The pitching has carried the team for nearly three months, but the offense will need to hit better if the team is going to reach the playoffs.

Here are some of the run totals the Pirates have put up since May 18 (31 games).

Runs Number of Times Record
  0             4    0-4
  1             8    4-4
  2             3    1-2
  3             2    1-1
  4+            14   12-2

When the offense scores more than three runs, the pitching staff makes it tough for opponents to win. However, it's been tough for the offense to score runs. 

Fans could tell that the offense was going right from the start. The Pirates opened the season by scoring one run and were shut out twice in the first five games. It took the team six games to score more than three runs for the first time.

Starting near the end of May and going into June, the offense failed to score in the first nine innings of a game four times in a five-game stretch. The team still won two of those games.

Brandon Inge saved the team twice in a week from being the victim of no-hitters.

With veterans Inge and Clint Barmes on the team, it's easy to see why the team is struggling to score. They haven't played every day, but both hitters hoovering around .200. Barmes has played in the majority of the games, and he has been an automatic out when he comes to the plate.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Pedro Alvarez's average has been a big part of this offense's struggles.

Slugger Pedro Alvarez is approaching Adam Dunn's league in regards to hitting. Dunn has always been a homer-or-strikeout guy, and Alvarez's numbers line up with Dunn's this season. 

Player AB AVG HR RBI K
Pedro Alvarez (PIT) 224 .223 16  48 84
Adam Dunn (CWS) 239 .182 19  43 85

Alvarez's average is higher, but he's still frustrating for Pirates fans.

Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte are having great seasons, but there's not much help around them. Garrett Jones and Russell Martin are both having respectable years, but they are the only ones helping the top of the lineup.

The Pirates may have to consider trading away some pitching in order to get an impact hitter at the deadline. The offense isn't good enough to nab a wild-card spot, although the pitching has put the Pirates in great position.

For now the Pirates have to hope the pitching continues to perform well. The staff leads the majors with 12 shutouts and is third in the NL in strikeouts. 

Which will have more of an impact on the Pirates' postseason hopes (make or miss)?

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Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds are both ahead of the Pirates in the NL Central. Both St. Louis and Cincinnati have great starting pitching and good offenses. 

The difference between the Pirates and the teams ahead of them is offense. All three teams are in the top five in the majors in pitching, but the Pirates lack a strong offense. St. Louis and Cincinnati rank no lower than eighth in all of baseball in runs scored.

If the Pirates decide to trade pitching for hitting, Cole will be expected to help lead the team to the playoffs this season. Cole is going to benefit from pitching at PNC Park, and he could make a run at the NL Rookie of the Year Award. 

It doesn't matter how well Cole pitches—the Pirates still need to score more runs. Pittsburgh's playoff hopes will be linked to how well the offense does, although the pitching has done a sensational job through the first three months of the season.

Cole will be an important piece to the team's success, but the Pirates are still missing parts on offense to be considered a legitimate contender.

 

*All stats are from MLB.com

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