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Taillon’s elbow injury should force Pittsburgh’s hand

Notes and observations about Major League Baseball with football season on the horizon:

n In what has turned into a lost season on the field since the all-star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates were dealt a potential death knell for the near future with the recent news that right-handed ace Jameson Taillon will miss the entire 2020 season after undergoing a second Tommy John elbow surgery.

The news is devastating for the Pirates in so many ways, not the least of which is that Taillon — who was picked second overall by the Bucs in the 2010 amateur baseball draft — will face long odds on his road to recovery.

Many pitchers have recovered completely from an initial Tommy John surgery and flourished, but history has shown that the success rate for pitchers who have undergone a second Tommy John surgery is not nearly as promising.

Taillon has been sidelined since early May with a right elbow flexor strain, but the more invasive Tommy John surgery was only deemed necessary after doctors opened up Taillon’s elbow last week.

For a pitching staff that has been next-to-last in the National League in team earned run average most of the season after entering this year with very high expectations, Taillon’s injury represents an even steeper mountain to climb.

The Pirates’ staff, as currently constructed, isn’t good enough to enable the team to compete in the National League’s rugged Central Division, where the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals are perennial division contenders, and where the Cincinnati Reds have vastly improved.

Veteran right-hander Chris Archer, a two-time American League all-star who the Pirates acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay last July for highly-touted prospects Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, has been making that trade look like a minus for Pittsburgh.

Archer has lost nine of his first 12 decisions this year, with a 5.23 ERA and 25 home runs surrendered in 22 starts, and hasn’t won a game since June 6. His 141 strikeouts in 118.2 innings pitched are a double-edged sword, causing him to run up high pitch counts and rarely reach the sixth inning in games.

After a sensational season last year, right-hander Trevor Williams has taken a step back this season, and another righty, Joe Musgrove, has been up and down.

Highly-touted right-handed prospect Mitch Keller has been getting his feet wet on the major league level in separate call-ups from Class AAA Indianapolis this season, but whether he will make a profound impact in the near future remains to be seen.

Left-hander Steven Brault, who locked up the fifth spot in the rotation after the trade of Jordan Lyles back to the Milwaukee Brewers, is a largely unknown quantity, as is young right-hander Dario Agrazal, who has gotten a look at the big league level this season.

It all points to the fact that if the Pirates have any prayer of hoping to contend in 2020, they’ll have to acquire a front-line pitcher, or two, via the free-agent market or trade, and those aren’t easy to get.

One of the club’s most desirable trade chips, two-time all-star reliever Felipe Vazquez, stayed put at this year’s trade deadline, but the Pirates may have to revisit the prospect of moving him for starting pitching help this offseason.

After all, a closer loses significant value when a team is in last place with virtually no hope of reaching the .500 mark.

It should be an interesting offseason.

Elsewhere…

n The creation of the second Wild-Card playoff spot in both leagues has significantly increased how interesting the season can become for a variety of teams, which was the intent behind the change in the first place.

In the American League, three teams — either Minnesota or Cleveland, along with Tampa Bay and Oakland — will battle it down to the wire for the two wild-card spots. Minnesota had a huge lead in the AL Central Division for most of the season, but defending champion Cleveland has given the Twins a run for their money by being one of the most successful teams in MLB since early June.

The National League Wild-Card picture is even more intriguing. Aside from the fact that the NL Central Division winner will likely be either the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis or Milwaukee, two of those three teams will wind up in the thick of the Wild Card hunt, along with Washington — if the Nationals don’t overtake Atlanta for first place in the NL East — Philadelphia, and the New York Mets.

n After winning a World Championship last October, the Boston Red Sox will likely finish out of the American League playoff picture this season. How does that happen? A pitching staff that is near the bottom of the league in runs allowed is one big culprit, as are the struggles of former lefty staff ace Chris Sale, who lost 11 of his first 17 decisions.

n As good as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ established starting lineup has been these last few years, the Dodgers have also been getting valuable contributions from young prospects just called up to the majors this season. Among them are catcher Will Smith, and first basemen Matt Beaty and Edwin Rios. In the Dodgers’ case, the rich just keep getting richer.

John Hartsock can be reached at jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

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