Time to Fade Pirates More Often with Starling Marte Suspension

Matthew Jordan

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:46 PM UTC

Tuesday, Apr. 18, 2017 7:46 PM UTC

The Pittsburgh Pirates close a three-game series at NL Central rival St. Louis on Wednesday afternoon (1:45 p.m. ET), but that has suddenly been overshadowed by an 80-game suspension to excellent Bucs outfielder Starling Marte.

MLB Season Record: 5-3 (one game pending)

Pittsburgh Pirates At St. Louis Cardinals (-108, 8)

The biggest injury/suspension news of the 2017 regular season thus far broke Tuesday afternoon when MLB announced that Pirates outfielder Starling Marte was suspended 80 games effective immediately after testing positive for nandrolone, a performance-enhancing drug that is classified as an anabolic steroid.

This is absolutely devastating for the Pirates, who close their series in St. Louis on Wednesday. In each of the past four seasons, Marte has had a wins above replacement (WAR) of at least 4.9. The only other outfielder with at least 4.5 WAR in each of the last four seasons is a guy named Mike Trout. The Bucs were given a wins total of 82.5 before the season. 

In 2016, Marte won a Gold Glove and hit .311 with a .362 on-base percentage, 47 stolen bases, nine homers and 46 RBIs in 129 games in being named an All-Star. Marte is so good in the outfield that this past offseason the Pirates shifted franchise player Andrew McCutchen, the former NL MVP, from center to right field over his own objections. McCutchen was the worst defensive center fielder in baseball in 2016. Marte led all left fielders in Defensive Runs Saved with 19.

This hurts the Pirates immediately and potentially down the road. First off, Marte’s teammates are likely going to be in the dumps emotionally for a bit. Second, losing Marte’s bat and speed on the basepaths can’t be replaced (he hadn’t got going much yet, batting .241 with two homers and seven RBIs). Ditto losing his glove/arm.

The team could move McCutchen back to center field and use some sort of platoon in right field – at least until top outfield prospect Austin Meadows is called up. If the Pirates need to use Meadows this season, though, then they can’t trade him for starting pitching. Meadows had been rumored in potential packages for the White Sox’s Jose Quintana. Meadows might not be ready for the majors as it is because he’s hitting .120 in Triple-A. Another option for Pittsburgh is to move Gregory Polanco move to center and have Josh Bell, Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison share time in left.

It was always going to be tough for Pittsburgh to make the playoffs because it plays in the same division as the Cubs and thus it’s likely wild card of bust for the Bucs. Should they get to the postseason, Marte’s drug suspension makes him ineligible for all of it.  Pittsburgh is +600 on MLB futures to win the NL Central.


Wednesday’s Probable Pitchers

It’s two very good young right-handers, and with a 1:45 p.m. ET start they should both have a significant advantage over the opposing hitters because it’s a day game after a night one – possible starters resting – as well as shadows around home plate later in the game.

Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29) goes for Pittsburgh. His numbers don’t look great but each of his three starts has been better. Last time out, he won at Wrigley Field, allowing the Cubs two runs and six hits over six innings and throwing a season-high 114 pitches. Cole is 2-3 with 3.13 ERA in five career starts at Busch Stadium. Matt Carpenter hits him well, going 10-for-26 with three homers.

The Cardinals start Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00). He has resembled in two starts the guy he was from 2013-15 and not the one who struggled in 2016 while dealing with injuries. Wacha has gone six innings in both outings and allowed four earned combined with 14 strikeouts to three walks. His fastball velocity is up a bit, which is a great sign off shoulder troubles.

Last year, Wacha was 0-1 with a 6.38 ERA in four starts vs. Pittsburgh. McCutchen is 12-for-25 career against him with four extra-base hits. Polanco is 7-for-20 with two RBIs. Harrison is just 1-for-14 against Wacha. Jordy Mercer is 3-for-17.

MLB Free Pick: ‘Under’ 8Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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