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Starling Marte Provides a Pop at the Top of the Pittsburgh Pirates Lineup

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COMMENTARY The Pittsburgh Pirates' atrocious offensive production had been the storyline through the first two series of the season and the primary reason for the team starting with a 1-5 record.

But the Buccos' batters turned things around quite rapidly during the current stint in Arizona, a stint in which the Pirates have two straight wins and a chance for a series sweep against the Diamondbacks. For the offense as well as the team as a whole, success starts at the top of the lineup with Starling Marte.

The speedy left fielder has started every game as manager Clint Hurdle's leadoff hitter, and he hasn't disappointed. Just like it's too early to write off the Pirates and their lack of offense, it's also too early to proclaim Marte as the anchor at the top of the lineup for years to come.

But that's not to say he's not off to an impressive start. If continued, he could put up some serious numbers during the course of the season. Marte truly is the proverbial five-tool player. Just take a look at what he's done already this season.

Marte has scored six of the team's 19 runs during the first eight games of the season, accounting for nearly a third of the scoring. He's batting at a .313 average and gets on base more than 35 percent of the time he comes to the plate as the leadoff man.

He has at least two hits in four consecutive games, and his 10 hits in 32 at-bats are more than Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez and Neil Walker combined. His three RBI on the season ranks tied for second on the team behind star Andrew McCutchen.

He has the team's only triple so far and went two for five with two runs scored, two RBI and a stolen base during a 6-5 win for the Pirates on April 9. Marte also had the team's only two hits against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 1-0 loss on April 6.

It might be hard for such a young player to maintain his current pace. Marte is only 24-years-old and has only appeared in 55 major league games during his short career. This season will represent the first time he's played anything close to a full season in the majors, barring any injuries.

There's also the question of plate discipline. In part because he's hitting the ball so well and so early in counts, Marte only has two walks on the season. It would be hard to complain about that low number if it weren't for an alarming amount of strikeouts.

In those 32 at-bats so far this season, Marte has whiffed eight times, meaning he strikes out exactly once in every four. It's an alarming trend that carried over from last season, when Marte recorded 50 strikeouts to only eight walks in 167 at-bats.

Regardless of those strikeouts, Marte is still the brightest spot on a Pirates lineup that had been putrid before the series with the Diamondbacks. And if it continues, fans can expect huge production from Marte getting hits and McCutchen driving him in.

Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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