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Royal-ly Bad: Pittsburgh Pirates Complete Sweep of Kansas City, Grab First in Division

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How about this: No Major League Baseball club has won more of its last ten games than the Pittsburgh Pirates’ eight.

The team is simply clicking in all facets of the game. The Bucs have scored 4.33 runs per game over their last 15, more than a whole run better than their season average of 3.2.

The Pirates have allowed 3.2 runs per game over that span, which is identical to their season average, good for second in the major leagues.

Yesterday’s win against the Royals in Kansas City not only marked the team’s second swept series in two weeks, it placed the Pirates a season-high five games above .500 (32-27) and tied for first place in the National League Central with the Cincinnati Reds.

I can point to three players who have been the team’s undisputed best so far this year: center fielder Andrew McCutchen and starting pitchers James McDonald, and A.J. Burnett.

Last night, McCutchen accounted for each of the Pirates’ three runs. He doubled in Alex Presley early in the game before hitting a two-run homer in the third inning.

Cutch is hitting for a very nice .325/.388/.563 line this year and has a 2.5 WAR rating according to Fangraphs. His batting average places him .001 points out of eighth place in the majors and he’s one of only two players with 11 home runs and 11 steals. The other got out of a 50-game steroid suspension on a technicality a few months ago.

While McDonald didn’t have a good outing on Saturday (four innings, three earned runs), he’s been nothing short of fantastic for the Pirates this year. His 2.39 ERA puts him sixth among major league starters. He’s struck out 73 batters in 75.1 innings and opponents are hitting just .200 off the righty this season with a WHIP of exactly 1.00.

And then there’s Burnett. The man so hated in the city of New York that the Yankees agreed to send Burnett along with $20 million to Pittsburgh in exchange for two A-level prospects with essentially no chance of ever reaching the majors.

Today, the 35-year-old carries a 6-2 record with a 3.61 ERA. Take a deeper look at the numbers, though, and you’ll see Burnett has been much better than that.

He’s won each of his last five starts, including a 7.1-inning two-run outing yesterday. Burnett has allowed more than two runs in just two outings this season, and, if we remove his single worst start of the year, leads Major League Baseball in ERA.

Not a bad haul for two non-prospects and some cash.

Unfortunately, we Pirates fans know all too well that our emotions must be held in check. Getting overly optimistic about this team’s chances right now would do nothing but set us up for another potential let down a la 2011.

After all, the Pirates held first place in the division as late as July 27 last season. With a month-and-a-half to go until that date this year, there’s plenty of time for this team to fall apart, or at least regress back to the 73-win pace many expected them to finish the season at.

Then again, there’s also plenty of time for the team to put itself in an even better position in an even weaker division than last year.

For now, we simply wait and watch.

The Pirates open a three-game series with the 34-26 Baltimore Orioles tomorrow before heading to Cleveland for a three-game set with the Indians.

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff for more Pittsburgh Pirates content

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