Pittsburgh Pirates: Last Month of Season Vital to Some Current Bucs
While some teams are playing games in late August and September that matter in a pennant race, the Pittsburgh Pirates are playing games that matter for a much different reason.
Even though I personally hate the goal, a run at finishing .500 would be a nice achievement for this current Pirates team.
However, as individuals, there is even more for these guys to play for. While stars like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata are locks to be in the 2012 opening day lineup, others may need a strong finish to the 2011 season and a solid spring training to be wearing a Pirates uniform next season.
For this group of guys, almost every game and every at bat matters the rest of the season.
Some may look at Jones as a lock for the 2012 squad, but don't be so sure.
While there is no doubt he is carrying the Bucs offense at the moment, it's hard to overlook the first four months of the season for a three week tear in late August.
The overall numbers just don't impress for a guy that has had over 350 at bats during the season. As much as Jones is carrying the Bucs at the moment, be careful to overlook how much he killed the team mid-season.
A spot in the 2012 outfield is highly unlikely for Jones, but there could be an opportunity for regular at bats at first base next season.
The Bucs will no doubt be in search of an upgrade at first base for next season, so the way Jones is hitting the ball at the moment comes at a good time for him.
If anything, he would be a valuable bench player next season, but Jones can use the final month of the season to prove he can be an everyday major league first baseman.
The Pirates fan base has practically pencilled in Presley as the everyday left fielder next season, and why not?
Presley has become a fan favorite with the great start since his call-up, before a thumb injury sent him to the DL.
What Presley needs to show is that he can sustain the success out of the leadoff spot for an extended period of time, something I feel he can do.
While I don't have that many trepidations about Presley, just remember that Chris Duffy got off to a similar start to his Pirates career and we all know how that played out.
Make no mistake about it, the Bucs were playing their best baseball of the season with Presley leading off and d'Arnaud hitting behind him.
The speed the Bucs had throughout the lineup at that time made them an exciting team and forced opposing defenses to make plays on them.
Unlike Presley, d'Arnaud had his share of both good and bad moments before he also landed on the DL.
He did show though that he belongs at the major league level and with some consistency could become a pretty good ball player.
The Bucs should give d'Arnaud a long look at shortstop the rest of the season, just to determine if the youngster can field the position. Young shortstops make errors. That's something that can be worked through.
September is as important for d'Arnaud as any other Pirates player if he wants to be the shortstop of the future.
Harrison is another young Bucco that has done some nice things in the limited looks he's received.
He's made some things happen with his legs and has come through with his share of big hits. Similar to d'Arnaud though, he could be better defensively.
Unlike d'Arnaud though, there likely isn't an everyday spot next season for Harrison, but a strong showing the rest of the season could go a long way to landing a bench position in 2012.
Speaking of bench guys, Wood has proven to be a valuable pickup from general manager Neal Huntington.
He's a guy that has shown the ability to play all over the diamond and field each position rather well. Wood also offers up a little pop with the bat and should be a guy the Bucs bring back in 2012 as a bench guy.
A solid final five weeks from Wood could make that decision a no-brainer.
Paul is likely a guy that's on the fringe for next season, but has done enough good things to throw his name in the mix.
He's a good defensive outfielder with good speed and has hit the ball well at times.
Down the stretch though, you would like to see him come through as a pinch hitter more often, something he hasn't had great success doing.
You get what you get with McKenry. He will do an above average job behind the dish and the little you get from his bat you have to take.
Much of McKenry's future is tied to what the Pirates do with both Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit in the offseason.
Getting by with the light hitting defensive catcher is easy on a team that scores runs. It's much more difficult on the Pirates.
If anything, McKenry should serve as the backup catcher in 2012. He would be as good of a number two catcher as the Bucs have had in years.
Judging by the way August went for the Pirates starting rotation, almost everyone could be on this list, but September is an especially important time for Lincoln.
Judging by the time line, the former first round pick should be in the Pirates rotation full time by next season, something I think Lincoln will do.
He's looked pretty good in a pair of spot starts this season and should get the ball four or five more times the rest of the way.
A solid final month could force the Bucs into some difficult decisions entering next season.
Make no mistake about it, Alvarez is the Pirates third baseman next season and for years after that.
He will be a September call up and while it's not vital that he has a solid final month, it sure would be nice. Not only for his confidence, but hopefully it would get some people off his back for the time being.