Everybody’s talking about the top three NL wild-card contenders as if the Pirates, at 76-76 and 4.5 GB of a playoff spot with ten to play, aren’t in the picture anymore. Is it more difficult to imagine them in the picture, knowing the Cardinals, Giants, and Mets are all ahead of them in the standings and in far more secure positions? And is it even more difficult to envision the Pirates forcing a last-second miracle surge with an underwhelming Andrew McCutchen and the remainder of their schedule featuring the Nationals, Cubs, and Cardinals?
And those difficulties continue when you subtract outfielder Starling Marte from the lineup, which the Pirates did last night as the 27-year-old left a game with back tightness.
Update: Starling Marte was removed from tonight's game due to back tightness.— Pirates (@Pirates) September 23, 2016
It was Marte’s lower back discomfort that kept him out of a string of 16 games leading up to September 21, when he pinch hit in the ninth inning of a game against the Brewers. His troubles did not appear to be over when he grabbed his back following a swing in the third inning of Thursday night’s game after making the start in left field.
Marte’s absence has haunted the Bucs, who needed a strong stint of wins to get a grip in the post season race, but have failed to find a foot hold. His slash line of .311/.362/.457 had been coming in pretty handy as Pittsburgh attempted to contend along with the league’s current wild-card holders, but, as manager Clint Hurdle put it, there was no denying that Marte was not right out there.
"If you saw the game, you saw the swings in the middle of the at-bat,'' Hurdle said in describing Marte's two plate appearances. "Those swings just aren't going to play."
As the fate of the current season withers, the Pirates are thinking at least partially about the future. The team has made multiple offers to keep starting pitcher Ivan Nova, acquired via a trade deadline deal from the Yankees.
Earlier this month, they submitted a prospective deal to Nova’s agent, but have since submitted a second offer. Nova is said to be hunting for a five-year, $70 million deal. “Discussions are ongoing,” according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Nova has made nine starts for the Pirates since they traded for him, accumulating a 2.93 ERA, 7.3 SO/9, and a staggering 3 BB in 55.1 IP.