As the Phillies move through their weekend series at PNC Park against the interstate rival Pittsburgh Pirates, the Bucs young right fielder is a major roadblock to success.
The Phillies are thankfully away from Citizens Bank Park.
I know, right? It sounds ridiculous to say that about a big league team. However, the Phils are having big trouble figuring out how to perform at home. The offense has sputtered in their normally cushy South Philly home ballpark.
So maybe this trip to PNC Park to start a ten-game road trip is exactly what the doctor ordered. The Pirates are currently settled into the middle of the NL Central pack at 49-46, and are also once again in the thick of the NL Wildcard race.
The Pirates also boast a plethora of young talent flowing through their roster, but there are a few to really keep tabs on this weekend.
Many times I would be writing this article about their perennial All-Star and MVP candidate centerfielder Andrew McCutchen. While “Cutch” leads the Buccos in homers, he has not been his normal self.
McCutchen’s modus operandi is that he usually hits a hot streak somewhere during August and carries the team right into September and October. But as of now, I am placing my focus elsewhere in the black and gold’s outfield.
I am a bit bias towards the Bucs’ right fielder, because he has been a positive for my fantasy baseball team all season, as Gregory Polanco has started to find his groove as a big league ballplayer.
But while his team-leading 53 runs, 51 RBI, 40 walks, and .854 OPS are absolutely intriguing, he is also not the member of the Bucs’ outfield that I choose to highlight this weekend.
You see, I am a speed guy. I played with speed and I love watching speed. Pirates right fielder Starling Marte is speed. His 34 stolen bases lead his closest teammate by 19 swiped bags.
Marte has brought more to the table than just his wheels this season though. He leads the team in batting average as the only Pittsburgh player hitting above the .300 mark.
Marte has slashed .313/.365/.463 and belted his way to 12 homers, only behind McCutchen for the team lead. His 105 hits leads the team by a wide margin, and he ranks third on the club in runs scored.
While Marte does not sit atop the Pirates leaderboard in most categories, he is intertwined among them. This season, Marte became an NL All-Star for the first time in his four full big league seasons.
He has hit above .280 in every full season he has played. The stolen bases have always reached above 30, once over 40 – a mark which he is on pace to shatter this season.
The right hander does not walk much (never more than 33 in a season) and strikes out a ton. He has whiffed more than 100 times in every season he has played, and is well on his way to do the same in 2016 with 74 to this point.
He is a clutch performer as well, and his 81 RBI in 2015 were the most in his career. That may be the most he will ever see, but again, he comes through when it matters most.
Defensively, Marte can plain go get it, proved by his Gold Glove in 2015. Entering the season, Marte was ranked as the second-best left fielder in the game by MLB.com, and was at the top of the pile in CBSsports.com rankings at the position.
While Marte is simply put a rare speed-power-hit combo, he can be stopped, or at least controlled. He can spray the ball all over the field and use his speed to take extra bases, so the Phillies will have to play him straight up the entire series.
Marte tends to like to hit pitches down and in the zone. For a player that can spray the ball all over the field, he does not consistently drive pitches on the outer half. It screams inside-out approach at me.
It will be exciting to see how the Phillies staff handles pitching to Marte this weekend. Zack Eflin was simply dominating in last night’s opener, and that included controlling Marte, who took an 0-3 collar.
Whether or not Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez can control the spark plug of the Pirates offense over the remaining two games could determine whether or not the Phillies can take any more victories away when they fly out of Pittsburgh on Sunday evening.