Top-of-the-order struggles doom Pirates in NLDS

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It was the bats that failed the Pirates in the end. Starling Marte finished the NLDS 1-for-19 with one walk and a hit by pitch from the leadoff spot. Neil Walker, right behind him batting second, was 0-for-19 with two walks.

It’s tough to generate much offense when your top two hitters reach base a total of five times in five games.

Batting third, likely NL MVP Andrew McCutchen was 5-for-17 in the NLDS, but he never drove in a run. He hardly the chance. Justin Morneau also had five hits without an RBI. The Pirates’ fifth, sixth and seventh hitters did the damage, with Marlon Byrd, Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin combining to drive in 13 of the Pirates’ 15 runs in the series.

There’s not really a whole lot the Pirates can take from this. The top two spots in the order weren’t problem areas this year. Despite his lousy walk rate, Marte had a .336 OBP while batting first and was 39-for-51 stealing bases, helping him scored 83 runs in 124 games.

Walker, ideally, is probably more of a No. 6 hitter, but his .256/.330/.477 line batting second is still a big improvement over the NL’s .262/.318/.392 line as a whole.

The Pirates will have to decide this winter whether to re-sign Morneau, Byrd and shortstop Clint Barmes or at least similar veteran facsimiles. They have Jose Tabata as a fallback right fielder, and he very quietly hit .282/.342/.429 in his 308 at-bats this year. They also have Jordy Mercer as a candidate to take over at shortstop. First base is the bigger problem area, and unless they want to shift Alvarez across the diamond (which doesn’t seem at all likely), they should add a free agent there, preferably one better than Morneau. Garrett Jones should be non-tendered.

The rest of the lineup will be back. McCutchen is under control through 2018. Walker and Alvarez are candidates for long-term deals. The Pirates should have plenty of flexibility this winter, what with A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Barmes and Jones coming off the books and a likely attendance boost on the way in 2014. There’s no reason they can’t add a big free agent to their already potent mix.

Mets sign Jose Lobaton to minor league deal

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The Mets signed catcher Jose Lobaton to a minor league contract, the team announced Friday. The deal includes an invitation to spring training, where it’s assumed Lobaton will be in the mix for a backup role behind Travis d'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki.

Lobaton, 33, is coming off of a four-year stint with the Nationals. He put up his worst career numbers in 2017, producing -0.6 fWAR after slashing just .170/.248/.277 with four home runs in 158 plate appearances. While he’ll give the Mets little to work with at the plate, his near-decade of experience behind the dish should make him a decent emergency option, if nothing else.

In the meantime, the Mets are expected to roll with a d’Arnaud/Plawecki platoon to start the season. Both catchers saw slight upticks in value over the 2017 season: d’Arnaud turned in 0.8 fWAR after hitting a career-high 16 home runs, while Plawecki collected 0.6 fWAR and three homers after raising his batting line over the Mendoza Line for the first time since 2015.