Three burning questions facing the Bucs for the rest of '24

May 18th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf’s Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- With 46 games in the books, the Pirates are a little over a quarter of the way through their 2024 campaign. We’ve learned a lot about this team so far, but there’s still plenty of season to be had, and plenty of uncertainty that goes along with it.

Let’s take a look at three questions the Pirates will still need to answer in 2024.

Can and go the distance?
Jones and Skenes only have a combined 11 Major League starts between them, but they might already be the best young pitching duo in baseball. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis recently opined that if Jones hadn’t already lost his prospect status, he would be the No. 2 pitching prospect behind Skenes. Mix in and the return of next year, and the Pirates could very well be in the discussion for the best rotation in baseball in 2025.

But first, they have to get through 2024 and the growing pains that come with it for these two. Neither pitcher has thrown 130 innings in a season before, and assuming they stay healthy, they’ll both blow past that number this year. The question is, by how much?

The Pirates were very deliberate in how they built up Skenes for his first full professional season, and they showed caution last month with Jones by limiting him to five innings against the Mets on his first start on four days’ rest. The schedule has plenty of built-in off-days in the near future, which should mean Jones and Skenes can go several weeks at least with an extra day of rest between starts. That helps for now, but what happens in the dog days of August or when the calendar turns to September? Will the Pirates still push them late, or will they limit their innings? Could a shutdown even be considered if the team is competing for the playoffs?

Is this offensive surge real?
There’s no question the Pirates’ offense has not lived up to expectations on the year. Whether you want to look at the individual performances of a couple players, or the offense as a whole, they haven’t hit enough. And the season might be in serious jeopardy if it had not been for the quality starting pitching thus far.

“We're going to get this thing going, largely with the group that we have here,” general manager Ben Cherington said last weekend. “We believe in that group. … I'd still bet on this group to get better, and we know we need to."

It’s a small sample size, but this past week was much better. The Pirates have put up 41 runs in their last seven games, right on the heels of scoring 41 runs over the span of 18 games prior to that. A couple of factors have played into that. and are finally getting the extra-base hits that their hard contact suggested they were due for. has hit well in his call up to the Majors. The bottom of the lineup has chipped in more. The team is cashing in on more run-scoring opportunities.

It was a good week. The question is: Was it just a good week, or a sign that the bats might finally be coming alive?

Can the bullpen find its next gear?
Coming into the year, the bullpen looked like the strength of the pitching staff. That hasn’t been the case. Their 4.39 staff ERA is the ninth-worst in the Majors, and their 0.55 win probability added ranks in the bottom half of the league, according to FanGraphs. It hasn’t been horrible, but it certainly hasn’t been a strength.

That’s not to say it’s been all bad. is looking more like his old self after his early season slump. has been a pleasant surprise. Luis Ortiz has looked good in multi-inning spots, and is a solid leverage arm. There’s half of a bullpen here.

The other half? That hasn’t been as kind. has solid strikeout numbers (26 over 14 2/3 innings), but he has allowed 11 runs (seven earned) and has been inconsistent. The bullpen experiment didn’t work and the team designated him for assignment. and Jose Hernandez were big parts of last year’s bullpen, but have been hit hard in Triple-A Indianapolis, while other pitchers like and have walked more than their fair share.

The team expects to get back this season, which would give them a much-needed second left-hander, but that’s not holding this bullpen back. One or two pitchers in that second grouping of relievers needs to step up, while hoping Bednar and company can still handle the final frames.