It was already a rough day for the Pittsburgh Pirates after dropping yet another game to Chicago Cubs and watching their wild card lead shrink to just two games. Then more bad news came in, as it was announced standout rookie Jung Ho Kang would miss the rest of the season with a broken tibia and torn MCL, an injury that could be a huge blow in the Pirates’ ability to keep home field over the Cubs.
With Josh Harrison all but invisible this year, Kang has been a key asset for the Pirates on the left side of their infield. Now with him out, the Buccos are going to have to turn to light-hitting Jordy Mercer and the underachieving Harrison at shortstop while Aramis Ramirez mans the hot corner. Both Mercer and Harrison are fine defensively, but are pretty solid drop offs at the plate. Kang hit .287/.355/.461 this season with 15 home runs and 58 RBI. Mercer is only slashing .239/.289/.304 with zero power. Harrison is at .273/.314/.367, which isn’t bad but is still well below Kang. Harrison also doesn’t have near the power, albeit a bit more speed.
It’s pretty much set in stone that the Pirates and Cubs will meet in the NL Wild Card game, with the winner moving on to face the mighty Cardinals. The only debate that remains is where said wild card game will be played, and that is a massive factor. While the Cubs are balanced both at Wrigley Field and away from it, the Pirates are not. Pittsburgh is absolutely dominant at PNC Park, with a 50-25 record. On the road though, they are only 37-34. The only thing that would hurt the Pirates at home is just how deadly Cubs projected starter Jake Arrieta is on the road. The Pirates have plenty of depth on their team, but shortstop is the one position where they get a little low. Losing Kang won’t prevent them from making the playoffs, but it very well could make that wild card game take place at Wrigley Field rather than at PNC.