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Savran: Pirates' offense hitting a new low

Saturday, May 18, 2002

It's readily apparent and painfully obvious that the Pirates' lineup doesn't have much. But it's also fair to say the Pirates aren't getting much from what they have.

Coming into the season it was safe to assume that the reputation of the Yankees' Murderers Row would remain intact.

But this?

Expectations for offensive production from this group couldn't have been lower, yet Pirates hitters have managed to take those unpretentious, subterranean expectations to new depths.

You don't expect to win the Preakness aboard a mule, but this?

The Pirates might rank last in every offensive category except for broken bats.

When four of your pitchers have higher batting averages than two of the alleged "hitters" in your starting lineup, you know you're in trouble.

Again, you can ease the pain somewhat by reminding yourself that scoring runs was going to be a struggle.

But that doesn't excuse the players -- highly paid players, I might add -- from underachieving compared to even their modest career averages.

If the core players approached career averages, given the Pirates' improved pitching and defense, who's to say how many more games this team might have won?

In his three seasons with the Pirates, Brian Giles has averaged .313 with 37 home runs and 111 runs batted in per season.

Heading into the weekend, he's hitting 48 points lower, and on pace to produce 13 home runs and 53 RBIs fewer than his National League average.

Presumably those numbers will rise -- hopefully, by significant amounts. But his team needs him now while they're still trying to discover their identity, trying to reinforce the belief that their good start wasn't a fluke.

The Pirates' best player must absolutely be at his best when his team needs him most. That would be right now.

No less than their ability to compete for the rest of this season rests on Giles' ability to reach just his career averages.

Is that undue pressure?

Hey, that's why they pay him what they pay him.

He's not the only one.

Jason Kendall has rebounded from an unfathomable start to a respectable average.

But you know what?

The Pirates didn't agree to that whopping contract for him to be respectable. They signed him to excel.

A .265 batting average might be considered excelling for Jack Wilson or Mario Mendoza, but not for a lifetime .304 hitter.

What's equally disturbing is Kendall, notorious for an inability to drive in runs, is a two RBIs away from tying for the team lead.

What does that say about the rest of the team?

And what to say about Kevin Young?

What's most alarming is his production has been in precipitous decline since 1999.

You can't ignore the trend, so why would anyone believe his sub-.200 average is an aberration?

How can the Pirates afford anyone hitting below .200 in their lineup, let alone a corner position player?

Young continues to play because the Pirates hope he'll come around, and because of his glove and salary

And there aren't many attractive alternatives.

No one works harder, no one is more conscientious than Young, but if this continues much longer, Craig Wilson or Rob Mackowiak will be infinitely more attractive.

And how many games did Aramis Ramirez's childish, selfish display of machismo in Milwaukee cost his team and still costs them as he tries to play on an ankle and a half, and hits like it?

The Pirates' woeful offense is going to be production-challenged under the best of circumstances.

Despite that, I believe it's folly to consider trading pitching for a short-term fix.

Even with improved production, this team isn't a playoff contender.

David Littlefield's long-term blueprint for contention is to build on pitching. Why trade any important member of that foundation when the future depends on them?

Stay the course.

Plus, assuming trading any of the top pitchers is out of the question, what impact position player might you realistically expect in return?

So what you see is what you've got, except the Pirates aren't even getting what they should out of what they've got.

The time for excuses and giving key players a free pass is over.

Expectations might be severely limited by reality, but there are those who aren't even living up to that.

Stan Savran is a co-host of "Sportsbeat" 6:30 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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