For starters, Bucs have problems


PITTSBURGH — If the Pirates had to win one game to save the city, what pitcher would you start?

Exactly. That’s the biggest problem on a team that has many.

There is no No. 1 starter. There really isn’t a genuine No. 2, and there might not be a legitimate No. 3, either.

The current five starters have all been about equally mediocre to this point, and nothing will rocket a team to the bottom of the standings like lousy starting pitching.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When the Pirates spent the second overall pick in the 2010 draft on Jameson Taillon, they thought they were getting a genuine starter for the top of the rotation.

Longer range, they probably figured they were drafting the pitcher who would succeed Gerrit Cole as the staff leader. Cole had been drafted first overall in 2008.

Quality starting pitching is both scarce and expensive, so the Pirates thought they’d better grow their own. That’s why they invested $8 million in Cole’s signing bonus and another $6.5 million to sign Taillon.

Cole is in Houston now. You’ll see him wearing the Astros uniform in the All-Star Game.

Taillon will be relaxing over the All-Star break. After Saturday’s loss to the Phillies, he’s 5-7 with a ERA just over 4.00. He pitched well on Saturday, but there’s been no consistency to his season, which probably led to Clint Hurdle’s otherwise curious decision to pull him after 77 pitches.

Taillon has had major challenges, including Tommy John surgery and testicular cancer. He’s healthy now, but at 26 he’s still a work in progress.

That might not be as big an issue if anyone else in the rotation would step up and cement a spot.

Maybe Joe Musgrove has the ability to do that. He lost time this season to a pair of stays on the disabled list.

This isn’t Taillon’s fault. But he’s part of a group that’s disappointed hugely, and that’s had a bigger impact than Gregory Polanco’s too-frequent brain cramps, Josh Bell’s mysterious power outage and Sean Rodriguez’s notorious .145 batting average.

When your rotation has this kind of uncertainty, it’s not just a struggle to win. It’s a battle to stay out of last place.

History lesson

There’s a commercial that’s been running on Pirates’ radio all season claiming the 1971 World Series-winning team was nicknamed “The Lumber Company.”

It wasn’t.

“The Lumber Company” was a nickname dreamed up by an advertising agency to promote the 1976 Pirates. They had enlisted outside help after some of the best teams in baseball failed to have corresponding success at the box office.

Sad city

Like it isn’t bad enough living in Cleveland, the city’s poor sports fans have to endure almost-native son Lebron James leaving not once, but twice.

The Cavaliers were nothing before James got there. He created excitement, made the Cavs a hot ticket, then bolted for Miami.

He came back, helped the city win its first sports championship in 50 years and has now bolted for Los Angeles.

At least this time he didn’t have a TV special to announce his departure.

Bad show

Friday’s Phillies-Pirates 4¢ hour, lopsided, 411-pitch sludge-fest is the kind of thing they should show in schools when the students don’t behave.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.