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Pirates behind eight ball after bad road trip

Notes and observations from the world of Major League Baseball as summer officially approaches:

Just as the old saying goes, the season is getting later much earlier for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Their recent 2-8 road trip left the Pirates flirting with last place in the National League’s Central Division, and a good distance behind the division’s top two teams, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs.

The Pirates’ Wild-Card playoff chances don’t look much more promising, with the Bucs trailing the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies by a sizeable margin for the top two spots at the beginning of this week, and also looking up at St. Louis, Colorado and Arizona, as well as a few other teams with losing records.

It’s still relatively early in the season, but the numbers game can catch up to a struggling team very quickly.

n This could all make the Pirates a big seller before next month’s July 31 trading deadline. With a surplus of outfielders and the emergence of rookie sensation Bryan Reynolds, any of three — Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson, and Melky Cabrera — could all be strong candidates to be traded. Dickerson and Cabrera will be free agents at year’s end, and Marte has an expensive option year on his contract that the Pirates, if history is any indicator, are unlikely to pick up.

n At this point, Reynolds, the New York Mets’ power-hitting first baseman Pete Alonso, and Atlanta Braves’ right-handed pitcher Mike Soroka, are on the short list of National League Rookie of the Year candidates. San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr., and Washington Nationals center fielder Victor Robles should also merit serious consideration.

n It’s natural to speculate that Pirates’ catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has had a long history of concussions and is currently on the injured list with another one, may be close to the end of his career.

n The Los Angeles Dodgers, a team with few or no apparent weaknesses, are an odds-on favorite not only to win their seventh straight National League West Division championship, but also, to make it to the World Series for the third straight year.

n Entering play at the start of this week, the Minnesota Twins had a better winning percentage than all of baseball’s other heavyweights — the Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros.

After winning just 78 games in 2018, the Twins fired manager Paul Molitor — a Major League Baseball Hall-of-Fame player — and brought in Rocco Baldelli. It’s a move that has apparently paid dividends.

That said, no team can win without its players performing exceedingly well, and the Twins are getting exemplary efforts from both their starting lineup and pitching staff.

Minnesota leads the American League in team batting average, runs scored, home runs, and RBIs. Left fielder Eddie Rosario and right fielder Max Kepler are both among the league leaders in home runs and RBIs, while shortstop Jorge Polanco leads the league in batting average and hits and is among the league leaders in doubles.

Minnesota’s pitching staff is led by right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who is having a career year with a 10-2 record and 2.24 earned run average in his first 14 starts. Right-handers Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson, and left-hander Martin Perez, are also among the league’s victory leaders.

n After helping the San Francisco Giants to two World Championships much earlier in this decade, 36-year-old right fielder Hunter Pence has rejuvenated his career this season with the Texas Rangers. Before being placed on the 10-day injured list with a right groin strain sustained in the Rangers’ game Sunday in Cincinnati, Pence led Texas — and was among the American League leaders — in RBIs (48), and was second on the Rangers in home runs (15), while batting .294. He’s a major reason that the Rangers are in the thick of the American League wild card playoff hunt, and they are certainly hoping that his stay on the sidelines will be short-lived.

(John Hartsock can be reached at jhartsock@altoonamirror.com)

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