When idiot bloggers say things like it’s “insane and inexcusable” to play Pedro Alvarez at first base in the pennant race, it sort of circumvents an entire discussion about Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis. Ike Davis isn’t really hitting like an ideal first baseman, he’s consistently on base and Pedro Alvarez isn’t consistently anything. Alvarez, though, has more raw power than most big leaguers and when he’s locked in, he’s capable of changing the course of a baseball game in a way that Davis simply is not. We haven’t seen that Alvarez in a while, though. After having two multi-home run games in the season’s first eight games and a fifth home run in Game 9, he only hit 10 home runs over the club’s next 119 games. He showed some signs of breaking out of his power slump as the first half ended, but his defensive problems obviously slowed that progress in the second half. He changed this game in the blink of an eye, though, with his three-run homer in the fourth inning and then a solo shot an inning later. When he stepped to the plate in the fourth, the Pirates were losing 2-0. When he crossed the plate for the second time in the fifth, they were up 8-2.
I said this at the All-Star Break and I’ll say it again now: the one thing that this Pirate offense is missing is a consistent power threat to clear the bases somewhat regularly and help cash in all of the runners that the Pirates constantly have on base. Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison (!) are among the National League leaders in slugging percentage, but neither is home run threat like Alvarez can be on his best days. Neil Walker, even for his power surge this year, will be lucky to hit 25 home runs. Alvarez’s brute strength offers something the Pirates don’t have without him, and this game was a nice picture of what he’s capable of. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions that he’s “back” after one game, but tonight was a nice reminder of what he’s capable of. If he truly is “back,” the Pirates are going to score a crazy amount of runs in this season’s final six weeks.
The Pirates are back within four of the Brewers. They’ve pulled to within 1 1/2 of the Giants, who lost today, for the second wild card. If the Cardinals lose tonight, they’ll be within 2 1/2 of them. If the Braves lose, they’ll be a half-game back of them. This season isn’t quite over yet.