Time is now for Taillon, others
The Pittsburgh Pirates are truly hanging in there at the most important part of the season. The Pirates have, honestly, been fairly consistent this season despite the underperformance of key players like centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Jung Ho Kang.
However, the offense as a whole has carried the Pirates, who have only been shut out three times this season.
What needs to improve for the Pirates to officially jump the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins in the National League Wild Card race is reliable starting pitching.
Pittsburgh definitely has that in rookie Jameson Taillon.
In his most recent outing, a shutout of the San Diego Padres on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park, Taillon tossed eight innings of three-hit ball. Taillon was efficient in his 101-pitch performance as he averaged 12.6 pitches per inning. Of that, 18 of his 28 first pitches were strikes. Taillon was able to get ahead of hitters, then assert his dominance with a high-90s fastball and smooth breaking pitches.
Taillon was reliable, which was why he was drafted out of high school, second overall in the 2010 MLB First Year Player Draft.
In recent years, other players from that draft class have trickled onto Major League teams and into the starting lineups for their clubs.
In the first round and the supplemental round, alone, there have already been eight MLB All-Stars. They include pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard.
Taillon was selected before all of them.
Also, going after Taillon were power-hitting shortstop Manny Machado and strong catcher Yasmani Grandal. They, too, were All-Stars.
The No. 1 overall selection in that draft was the 16-year old prodigy known as Bryce Harper. But, Taillon came just one spot behind baseball’s “chosen one.”
It’s now Taillon’s time to be the chosen one for the Pirates, every five days.
While other members of his draft class were signing contract extensions, earning endorsement deals and helping their respective teams in the post season, Taillon was shut down for Tommy John surgery and was developed even more slowly due to a sports hernia. Even since he’s been called up to Pittsburgh, Taillon had a spot on the disabled list for arm fatigue.
He couldn’t catch a break. Yet, now is the time for his big break.
The Pirates did not acquire a dynamic starting pitcher this offseason, and they let the resurgent J.A. Happ sign a three-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pirates did bring in past-his-prime veteran Ryan Vogelsong, who started the year in the bullpen.
However, like Taillon, Vogelsong has a chance to prove his reliability when the team needs it most.
Vogelsong is coming off a stint on the 60-day disabled list, but he has been solid in his two starts this month. As the Pirates have shuffled their rotation with a mix of young guys (Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, Taillon) and risky veterans (Jeff Locke, Vogelson and the now-departed Francisco Liriano), many hurlers have had a chance to put the team in a position to win games.
Vogelsong did that on Aug. 4 at Atlanta (three hits, one earned run, six strikeouts) and on Aug. 10 against San Diego (three hits, no earned runs and five strikeouts).
Only thing, the Pirates found a way to spoil those gems from Vogelsong with a pair of losses.
The Pirates are also hoping to find a “Happ-ening” in the second half of this season. By acquiring Happ from the Philadelphia Phillies at the 2015 trade deadline, Pittsburgh had a reliable starter as it clinched a third-consecutive postseason appearance. For the Pirates to make it back to the playoffs a fourth time, this year’s project starter came from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline.
Ivan Nova may be the X-factor.
Nova started on the mound in Friday’s late-night contest out in Los Angeles, but in his Pittsburgh debut last week, he allowed six hits over seven innings, with five strikeouts and three earned runs.
The bullpen held a lead and the Pirates won, 5-3.
When the offense can back up a good enough outing like that, the Pirates will win games. When the Pirates win games, they will return to the playoffs.
The pieces are now in place for a consistent run to Wild Card Game.
It will just take enhanced reliability from Nova, Vogelsong, Gerrit Cole and Taillon.
It’s their time now.
(Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @HSDTsports)