It's no secret the Pirates are ineffective at the plate.
Entering Saturday, Pittsburgh had scored an MLB-low 127 runs, and its .217 batting average was the worst in the National League. And as far as the offensive struggles go in the Pirates' organization, the buck doesn't stop with the Bucs.
In their entire organization, the Pirates have just three hitters - Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, Altoona's Brock Holt and West Virginia's Alen Hanson - who have at least 75 at-bats and a batting average above .300.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Robbie Grossman slides in safely at second base as Bowie shortstop Manny Machado fields a high throw.
As a whole, the Pirates and their four minor league affiliates that are currently playing are hitting a collective .240.
So how does an organization that doesn't hit well try to score more runs?
It starts with getting more disruptive on the bases.
The Curve had a season-high five steals in a 6-3 win over Erie on May 19, and after the game manager P.J. Forbes said getting an extra 90 feet when possible is something Pittsburgh has been stressing to its farm system.
"We've talked a lot about [stealing bases]," Forbes said. "I think it's a point of emphasis in the major leagues right now because of the park we play in and type of team. We don't have bombers; we have to manufacture."
Even with the extra aggressiveness, the Curve's five steals in one game were a rare showing. They have only 24 steals all season, second fewest of any team in the Eastern League, and the number may not improve much since they have very little team speed.
But straight steals aren't the only way the Pirates want their minor leaguers advancing a base on a pitch.
Though it will show up in a box score as a wild pitch rather than a steal, what the players and coaches refer to as "dirt ball" reads have the Curve and other Pirate affiliates moving up on the bases. A dirt ball read is when a runner takes off for the next base when he recognizes the pitch is going to be in the dirt, thereby making it tough for the catcher to handle and easier to advance one base.
"It's an organizational policy, and we take pride in our dirt ball reads," Tony Sanchez said. "It's actually really fun to do; a guy like me can do it. If you read a ball in the dirt, you can [move up a base], and that's something we've worked really hard to do."
As a catcher, Sanchez said it's "extremely difficult" to throw out a runner if he gets a good jump on a ball in the dirt. While a good dirt ball read can make life tough for a catcher, Forbes said he likes the extra weight it adds to the man on the mound.
"That puts a lot of pressure on a pitching staff, thinking, 'I can't throw as many balls in the dirt,' and when [they] do, we get a base," Forbes said.
During their recent seven-game winning streak, the Curve stole eight bases and took advantage of six wild pitches.
Power hitting has not just been an issue for the Curve, but again, it's a problem for the whole Pirate organization.
Pittsburgh is tied for 23rd in the majors with 35 home runs, while both Triple-A Indianapolis and Altoona have hit just 16 homers, which ranks each team last in its respective league. In total, the Pirates and their four full-season minor league affiliates have hit 122 home runs in 7,756 at-bats this season, which equates to an average of one home run every 63.6 at-bats.
The lack of power hitting makes having runners in scoring position very important for the Curve and other teams in Pittsburgh's farm system. And though dirt ball reads may not seem like much, Sanchez said they can be a big boost for a team's offense.
"If you got a guy on first base with two outs and he reads a ball in the dirt, that gives you a chance to hit a single and drive in a run," Sanchez said. "Those runs are huge, and not only are they big as far as the game goes, but for making the at-bat easier on the hitter. It's a big bonus for the team."
Stephen Pianovich is a Mirror intern assisting in Curve coverage this season.
Offensive numbers, to say the least
Where the teams in the Pirate organization rank in key offensive categories in their respective leagues:
Team...........Level.....Avg. (rank)..........Runs (rank).....HRs (rank)
Pittsburgh.....MLB......217 (29th)............127 (last).......35 (T-23rd)
Indianapolis...AAA......235 (12th of 14)....179 (9th).......16 (last)
Altoona..........AA.......245 (11th of 12)....173 (10th)......16 (last)
Bradenton.......A+......247 (9th of 12)......207 (4th)........24 (T-6th)
West Virginia...A........255 (7th of 14).......216 (10th)......31 (6th)