5/31/2014 8:05 P.M. ET
Winning record in May fueled by bats, not arms
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Perhaps the Pirates aren't as built -- and dependent upon -- pitching and defense as team officials envisioned.
The Bucs were guaranteed a winning May -- taking a 15-13 record into Saturday's game against the Dodgers -- thanks to a significant uptick in their offensive production that made up for a downturn in their pitching performances.
After staying quiet through the end of April -- a collective .221 average and .642 OPS -- the Pittsburgh lineup stirred in May to take an average of .274 and .750 OPS into the month's final game. The Pirates have been particularly productive since Ike Davis took over in the cleanup spot, completing the shakeup begun when Starling Marte vacated leadoff, in favor of primarily Josh Harrison.
And manager Clint Hurdle said this lineup still has the potential of being the best he has ever had in four seasons in Pittsburgh.
"If we get [shortstop Jordy] Mercer swinging the bat, our lineup will be the best we've had here," said Hurdle, making an exception of 2013's last month, when trade pickups Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau fueled the team down the stretch.
Conversely, "The inconsistencies off the mound have been challenging, the starting pitching as a whole," Hurdle said. "That's one area we got to improve."
Through April, Pirates starters averaged 6 1/3 innings. That workload dropped to 5 2/3 innings through 28 May games.
Marte's series of mental miscues irk Hurdle
LOS ANGELES -- This has not been the sharpest week of Starling Marte's young career. The Bucs outfielder was guilty of glaring mental errors in three different games, and his attention lapses have caught manager Clint Hurdle's attention.
"It's a young mistake," Hurdle said of Marte's latest gaffe, getting picked off second base in Friday night's game as pitcher Francisco Liriano bunted through a pitch. "Young mistakes have to end after a certain period of time."
Marte is two months into his second full Major League season and does not have a track record for such slips:
• Last Saturday, mistakenly believing the batter had taken ball four, he walked into an out at second base.
• On Tuesday in Citi Field, he did not heed Andrew McCutchen's call for a fly hit to left-center and knocked the ball out of the center fielder's glove.
• And Friday night, Dodgers catcher Drew Butera easily nailed him after he wandered too far off the bag as Liriano tried to bunt.
"It's hard to swallow a guy getting picked off, when you have the inning set up just the way you wanted. Kind of wrecks your furniture," Hurdle said. "What you can't have happen, happened.
"It's a poor play. The onus is on the pitcher to get the bunt down, sure. With his speed, Marte easily gets to third," added Hurdle, dismissing any need for Marte to try to get an extra jump. "You see it happen a handful of times, and the runner is always in error. You can't be out there when [the batter] bunts through a ball."
• Gregory Polanco was listed on Saturday as Triple-A Indianapolis' leadoff batter for the first time this season, against Scranton/Wilkes Barre, and general manager Neal Huntington, in a wide-ranging news conference with reporters prior to Saturday's game, affirmed that it's the latest prep test for the outfielder.
"When he gets here, we don't think he's going to be batting third," said a smiling Huntington, alluding to Andrew McCutchen's home in the lineup.
• Josh Harrison made his 12th straight start Saturday, this time at third base, replacing Pedro Alvarez. Only Neil Walker and McCutchen have made more consecutive starts.
• "He was controlled mentally. In starts before, some emotions may have gotten the best of him, but he was just locked in and everything worked. He got a little help with guys chasing pitches, but I think that's because he attacked the zone so well," Dodgers catcher Drew Butera said of Francisco Liriano.
Was Butera commenting on Liriano's effort in pitching the Bucs to a 2-1 victory Friday? No -- he was recalling the lefty's May 3, 2011, no-hitter with the Twins against the White Sox, caught by Butera.
First number, last word
.324: Josh Harrison's batting average as a leadoff batter this season, including his first-inning single on Saturday off Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu.
"If your confidence is tied to your record, you don't really have any. Our confidence collectively as a group has not wavered. We just haven't played that well some days." -- manager Clint Hurdle, on his Pirates still trying to dig themselves out from below the .500 level, and their self-assurance to do so
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.