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Inbox: Who will step up during the stretch run?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from Bucs fans
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- The Pirates enjoyed an off-day in Milwaukee on Monday, resting up before the start of a critical stretch in which they'll play 34 of 38 games within the National League Central. The Bucs are banged up after an eventful weekend in Toronto, but they are still within striking distance of the division lead despite sitting in fourth place.

We're opening up the Pirates Inbox and answering your questions on the upcoming stretch, the future face of the franchise, Jose Osuna and more.

NEW YORK -- The Pirates enjoyed an off-day in Milwaukee on Monday, resting up before the start of a critical stretch in which they'll play 34 of 38 games within the National League Central. The Bucs are banged up after an eventful weekend in Toronto, but they are still within striking distance of the division lead despite sitting in fourth place.

We're opening up the Pirates Inbox and answering your questions on the upcoming stretch, the future face of the franchise, Jose Osuna and more.

Tweet from @AustinRBechtold: With the division in reach and division play upcoming, who do you expect will step up for the Pirates during this important run of games?

First and foremost, the Pirates could use good health out of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli. Beyond that, the team has typically gone as its starting pitching goes. That makes the performance of Gerrit Cole, Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon of the utmost importance down the stretch.

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With those three rolling -- Cole and Taillon have bounced back well after rough stretches -- the Pirates should be able to hold their own given the development of Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl. If they stumble, the Bucs could turn to Tyler Glasnow and Steven Brault, who are both dominating at Triple-A Indianapolis.

I would add Polanco to the list, but his latest left hamstring injury throws his status into question and puts more pressure on the guys hitting behind McCutchen: Josh Bell, David Freese, Jordy Mercer and Cervelli.

Video: PIT@TOR: Mercer launches a solo jack to left-center

A ways off, but who do you see as the face of the franchise five years from now? Obviously Cutch has carried the title for several years and there are many options for the future in Jamo, Bell, Polanco, etc. Personally, I feel like Frazier could be that guy.
-- Jason W., Ohio

Given what Taillon has overcome, particularly this year, I think he's popular with fans. He's also the kind of pitcher who could find himself near the top of the rotation going forward, and he's sharp and insightful beyond his years. But it's hard for starters to be the face of the franchise since they don't play every day.

For that reason, I'd lean toward Bell. He has already proven to be a productive player in his first full Major League season, his defense has improved dramatically and he's hitting for the kind of power that suggests he'll hold down a spot in the middle of the lineup for a long time. Bell is also accommodating and insightful with the media, and I've found him to be a natural at community events, especially with kids.

Video: PIT@TOR: Bell laces a triple into center in the 2nd

What the heck does Osuna have to do to get some consistent playing time?
-- Luke R., Columbus, Ohio

I'm not sure there's a clear path to more consistent playing time right now, Luke, and I'm not sure there needs to be. You're not going to put him above Bell on the depth chart at first base, and for defensive reasons, you'd rather have Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez or John Jaso backing up in right field.

Video: SD@PIT: Osuna's bases-clearing double for the lead

Osuna has shown promising signs at the plate this season, batting .257/.300/.458 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 190 plate appearances, and there is some value in having a player like that available to hit off the bench or start twice a week.

Tweet from @TheTruthSwagner: Do you think the Pirates will trade for another outfielder (such as Curtis Granderson) after Gregory Polanco's latest hamstring injury?

I wouldn't expect that kind of move, especially since the Pirates didn't go out and acquire an outfielder when Polanco went down with a hamstring injury last month. And I really wouldn't expect them to part with a future asset for a rental like Curtis Granderson. Their recent waiver trades were for Rodriguez, under control through next season, and reliever George Kontos, under control through 2019.

If Polanco misses any significant period of time, I think it's more likely you see Rodriguez, Frazier, Jaso and Osuna cover right field in his absence. Or…

Video: PIT@DET: Rodriguez rips a solo jack in the 8th

Will Austin Meadows be up soon?
-- Matthew

It doesn't sound like Meadows will come up when rosters expand to 40 players in September, especially if the Pirates remain in the NL Central race. General manager Neal Huntington recently said the Bucs talked with their top prospect and his representatives about possibly playing winter ball to make up for the at-bats he missed this season while he was sidelined with a strained hamstring.

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Meadows, OF, Pirates

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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