(BaseballStL) -- At the All Star break, the Pittsburgh Pirates sit 3.5 games back from the Milwaukee Brewers, but injuries to their starting rotation have plagued the Buccos and kept them down in the race for the top spot in the NL Central.
In their 2013 postseason run, the Pirates received immense support from their starting rotation. Their rotation posted a .238 batting average against and 1261 strike outs in 2013, which was in the top three NL leaders. Instead, this season batters are hitting .251 against the Bucs and only 69 strike outs, which ranks second to last in the NL.
Biggest disappointment: Injuries to Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole
Liriano, 30, has thrown just 76.1 innings this season and he's projected to throw 130.1 in total for the season. Last year the Cy Young contender threw 161.0 innings. So for those not particularly apt to do math right now, those 30 less innings could mean 5 less starts for the southpaw, assuming he throws 6.0 innings per start, also known as a quality start.
Cole, 23, went out with shoulder fatigue in the beginning of June. The Pirates have pinned a great deal of hope to their young righty. He is their Michael Wacha and he was their first round draft pick back in 2011.
Cole came back from the shoulder fatigue only to suffer a lat strain after his start on July 4th. And now with two stints on the disabled list, and the Pirates report Cole isn't expected to come off the DL as play resumes, it's hard to know if the Pirates will push their young arm as they push toward a playoff run.
First half MVP: Andrew McCutcheon
He might be the obvious choice, but 2013's NL MVP has come into the break sweltering hot, blasting a .385 average in July with 5 jacks and 13 RBI alone.
With 61 RBI already, McCutcheon is on pace for his biggest season with 104, his highest total previously was 96 RBI in 2012. He has been a part of an offense that has carried the Pirates through the standings, including 4th in the NL in homers at 85 total and 391 runs scored. Where the pitching has failed the Pirates, McCutcheon hasn't.
Overall first half grade: C+
Back in the beginning of the season, BaseballStL said if the Pirates could receive the same stellar pitching as they had in 2013, they had a good chance to be toward the top of the heap in September. However, injuries have hampered a team that looked poise to repeat their playoff appearance.
The Pirates sit 3.5 back of the division lead and 3 games back from a Wild Card spot and if they want to be in thick of race, they'll need more consistency from bit players, like Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis, and a healthy starting rotation to compete.