When you have a playoff race as entertaining as the one in the NL Central has been all season long, you hate to see this happen.
In yesterday afternoon’s game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Bucs lost infielder Jung Ho Kang for the season.
Kang’s knee bent the wrong way as Chris Coghlan came in for what appeared to be a clean take-out slide on the front-end of an attempted double play. (Kang has said he doesn’t hold Coghlan responsible.)
While he won’t win the award, Kang was sure to get some votes for Rookie of the Year, batting .287/.355/.461 with 15 HR and a 123 OPS+.
Kang started the year as sort of a part-time player, starting in just 3 of the Pirates’ first 12 games.
When Josh Harrison went down with an injury, Kang became a more regular player.
During Harrison’s absence (July 6th – August 20th), Kang made 37 starts, batting a stellar .329/.401/.564.
He started that stretch replace Harrison at third base, then moved to short when the Pirates acquired veteran Aramis Ramirez near the trade deadline.
It’s a big blow for the Pirates, who now lead the Cubs by just 2 games after the North Siders took 3 out of 4 against them at PNC Park earlier this week.
Pittsburgh now trails the St. Louis Cardinals (winners of 4 straight) by 5 games in the NL Central and the chances of them getting back into that race seem pretty bleak at this point.
Stranger things have happened, but it’s starting to look more and more like the only race remaining is the one to see who hosts the NL Wild Card game.
How big of an effect Kang’s injury will be on the Pirates’ playoff run remains to be seen.
Jordy Mercer becomes the everyday shortstop now. In 100 games, he’s put up a slash line of .239/.289/.304, which is pretty much what you expect from him.
Both Kang and Mercer have comparable range factors per 9 innings, though Mercer is the surer-handed fielder (.984 fielding percentage versus .961).
Baseball Info Solutions has both shortstops with 0 defensive runs saved.
Even if Mercer is an upgrade defensive-wise, the bat is a definite step down. There’s no way to sugar-coat this thing. Losing Kang is a big deal. It’s just a question of how big of a deal.
If you watched yesterday’s sloppy loss, you know how desperate the Pirates are for better defensive play.
They rank 13th in the National League in Defensive Efficiency (balls in play turned into outs) and have committed more errors (113) than any team in the league. Mercer may help shore that up a touch, but not so much that it will make up for the loss of Kang’s bat.
Things don’t get any easier for them. They now head out for a 7-game swing out West before 3 more road games at Wrigley Field. Their first two match-ups are in Los Angeles against Cy Young hopefuls Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
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Cardinals (16): @ Cubs (3), REDS (3), BREWERS (4), @ Pirates (3), @ Braves (3)
Pirates (16): @ Dodgers (3), @ Rockies (4), @ Cubs (3), CARDINALS (3), REDS (3)
Cubs (16): CARDINALS (3), BREWERS (3), PIRATES (3), ROYALS (1), @ Reds (3), @ Brewers (3)
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The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch the playoffs is 2, so they’re in line to celebrate this evening.
The San Francisco Giants trail the Cubs for the 2nd Wild Card spot by 8 games, giving the Pirates a magic number of 7 and the Cubs a 9.