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.

Padres reportedly interested in J.T. Realmuto

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LAS VEGAS — Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports that the Padres have “genuine interest” in Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto.

The Mets have been the most frequently mentioned suitor for Realmuto’s services, but over the weekend a report emerged that that their talks with Miami had lost some momentum, so perhaps that creates an opening for some other teams. For their part, the Padres have a loaded farm system which may interest the Marlins a great deal, even if they’ve publicly said they want major league talent for their best player. San Diego’s interest in Realmuto is obviously, of course. He’s probably the best catcher in the game at the moment. If, as some suspect, the Padres are poised to turn the corner into competitiveness in 2019, Realmuto could play a key role in that.

Realmuto, who will be 28 on Opening Day, hit .277/.340/.484 with 21 homers last year, which earned him both All-Star and Silver Slugger honors. He’s also one of the best defensive catchers in the game. It’d take a haul of talent to get him, but he is easily the most appealing position player on the trading block this offseason.