PITTSBURGH -- The 2012 season hasn't even ended yet, and one can assuredly make a call on what will be the Pirates' biggest improvement in 2013: Running, and stealing, bases.An easy call, because there's nowhere to go but up. Before Saturday night, the Bucs had stolen 69 bases in 121 tries, a 57 percent success rate that was the Majors' lowest; Arizona was next at 64 percent. Also because the alarming failure rate has the club's full attention, and will lead to added emphasis on coaching speedsters how to use that talent. Andrew McCutchen was 20-for-32, Starling Marte was 10-for-15, Alex Presley was 9-for-16 entering Saturday. Mostly, though, because manager Clint Hurdle conceded Saturday that when it comes to the Pirates tapping their run potential, "there's more there." The last time Hurdle used that exact phrase was a year ago, about the Bucs' power production as they were wrapping up the 2011 season 12th in the National League with 107 homers. Essentially the same group now has 166 home runs, fourth in the league and within reach of the club record of 171 established in 1999. "We haven't run the bases in line with the skill-set we have," Hurdle said. "There's more bags to be had. Our stolen-base ratio isn't anywhere close to what it should be, or what we're capable of."
Playing time dwindling, Marte a work in progress
PITTSBURGH -- A number of the Pirates' midseason moves, made to sustain the club's high standing, did not work out. Was the promotion of Starling Marte among those that missed the mark?Implications are that perception could be accurate. Marte's recent benching and "remedial" workouts suggest he may not have been quite ready for the step to the Major after a half-season in Triple-A. The irony is that for a long time, the club resisted fans' outcries for Marte's promotion from Indianapolis, until finally relenting on July 26. Marte's bow was definitely electric: a first-pitch home run touching off a 2-for-4 night in a 5-3 win in Houston. Soon enough, however, the rookie began to struggle, and was further impaired by a mid-August oblique injury that idled him for nearly three weeks. Forty-two games and 152 at-bats in, Marte is batting .250, and playing less frequently. He started twice in the last week, and was again on the bench for Saturday night's game against the Reds. "There's a bunch of things we're working on with Starling," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Baserunning -- leads and breaks. Barreling up the ball at bat. Bunting. I'd put all three at the top of the list."
With Friday's loss, the Pirates clinched their 19th straight losing record against National League Central teams in as many years of interdivisional play. Before Homer Bailey's no-hitter, the Bucs were 38-40 against division teams and still had a chance for a winning division record for the first time since the Central's birth in 1994. Sunday's series finale against Cincinnati is also the final against the NL Central. Easily camouflaged by Bailey's no-hitter was the fact his 10 strikeouts increased Pittsburgh batters' season total to 1,312, a new club record, breaking last season's total of 1,308. The Pittsburgh staff took an ERA of 3.92 into game No. 158. The last season the team ERA finished below 4.00 was in 1998 (3.91).
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.