After making the postseason in 2013 for the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to make it there again in 2014.
Pittsburgh has tread water so far, winning six of its first 12 this season. That is due in part to a slow starts from a few players.
At the same time, however, its wins have come thanks in large part to a surprising performance.
Let's take a look at these surprises and disappointments for the Pirates early on in the 2014 season.
Surprise: Travis Ishikawa, 1B
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Pirates' lineup thus far, Travis Ishikawa is holding his own in the lineup.
The 30-year-old first baseman batted .294 through his first six games with a home run and a triple. He has since falling off somewhat (.226 overall), but his contributions have been a boost for the organization early on.
With an abundance of right-handed pitchers in the National League Central, Pirates' regular Gaby Sanchez has not seen as much playing time at first base, and Ishikawa is doing a fine job filling the void his absence leaves in the lineup.
While he will probably not be an everyday player as long as Sanchez is still on the roster and healthy, Ishikawa is proving that he can perform on a daily basis.
Disappointment: Andrew McCutchen, CF
After winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2013, Pirates' center fielder Andrew McCutchen batted .417 with five home runs in spring.
However, spring training statistics do not mean anything once the regular season rolls around, and McCutchen is off to a rather slow start.
In 46 at bats, McCutchen is batting .239 with 11 strikeouts and three extra-base hits.
Perhaps his ailing ankle is to blame, as Tom Singer of MLB.com reported that McCutchen left Friday's game due to discomfort.
Whatever the case may be, the Pirates need McCutchen to be healthy and reach base more often to have a successful season. He is a cornerstone in the organization and an integral piece in the Pirates' lineup, but his early disappointment is partially the reason Pittsburgh has played .500 ball so far.
While it is still very early in the season, it seems that the Pirates will not get going until McCutchen starts hitting, so we will see if that holds true in the coming weeks.
Surprise: Edinson Volquez, SP
Since then, however, Volquez has been derailed by injuries to his throwing arm, starting a combined 21 games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Now, Volquez seems to have gained his arm strength, and he has shut down opposing batters on the mound for the Pirates in 2014. The 30-year-old from the Dominican Republic has started two games, allowing just two earned runs and striking out 10 batters in 14.0 innings.
According to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, after Volquez's start against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 6, catcher Tony Sanchez said: "He really, really showed what he's capable of and he proved that he belongs here with us."
In a rotation that already features ace Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton, Volquez could be the added arm that the Pirates need to make it back to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Disappointment: Wandy Rodriguez, SP
While it may not come as a great surprise, Wandy Rodriguez's poor performance on the mound has been a disappointment to the Pirates' organization in 2014.
Rodriguez is another guy who is coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season, but he performed well in spring training, won the No. 4 spot in the rotation and raised some expectations in 2014.
Again, those statistics have not translated into a stellar regular season so far, as Rodriguez has been awful on the mound for the Pirates.
In three starts, he is 0-2 with an earned run average of 7.31. Once an ace for the Houston Astros, the 35-year-old has given up 20 hits and 13 earned runs in only 16.0 innings pitched.
According to Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports, Pirates' all-star pitcher Jeff Locke has been reinstated after recovering from an oblique injury. The Pirates optioned him to Triple-A rather than throwing him right back into the mix.
However, if he shows he can perform as he did during the first half of last season, where he went 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA before falling off in the second half, Locke will likely be replacing the struggling Rodriguez in the Pirates' rotation.
While it is still early in the season, the Pirates have a few kinks to work out, but with surprising performances from a few players, they have managed to stay at .500 so far.
McCutchen will almost undoubtedly begin to heat up, as he is simply too talented to have an off year in the prime of his career.
Meanwhile, the Pirates hope that they will continue to get quality starts out of Edinson Volquez, who has kept batters off balance and searching for answers in his first couple of starts.
The Pirates will be just fine in 2014, but if they want to make it back to the postseason, they will need a little more help in the rotation, which Jeff Locke should be able to provide given he is healthy.
Statistics Courtesy of Baseball Reference.com.
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