There might not be a whole lot of folks in the baseball world paying close attention yet, but the Pittsburgh Pirates sure are making a whole lot of noise in the NL Central these days after getting off to a 1-5 start.
So, their sweep of the Cincinnati Reds last weekend didn’t quite do the trick for you? Well, how about taking three of four from the big, bad Atlanta Braves over this weekend? The Bucs accomplished just that on Sunday, moving to 10-8 on the season with a 4-2 win — and a half game back from the division lead for the time being.
How have they done it? By following the blueprint set forth by the surprising 2012 Baltimore Orioles. In other words: with an elite bullpen.
Yes, I’m using the word elite there, and more than rightfully so. The Pirates don’t exactly have a whole lot of elements on the team that screams the word at you, but this is a team that’s earned six out of their last nine wins with the score differential being under two, and it’s been their relief corp and their league leading .176 BAA and sixth-ranked 2.23 ERA that’s leading the way.
More precisely, it’s been new closer Jason Grilli that’s been the key.
The 36-year old veteran has taken over ex-Pirates ninth-inning man Joel Hanrahan‘s job beautifully, converting all seven of his save opportunities successfully, including Sunday’s one-walk. two strikeout handshake earned against the Braves, his second in as many days.
Not only has Grilli not allowed a run over his nine appearances to date in 2013, he’s doing so with plenty of style points, striking out at least one batter in all but out of his outings (good for an elite 14.63 K/9), with five of those appearances being of the sparkly-clean variety.
Combined with a Bucs offense that’s actually fourth in the bigs over the last seven days (37 runs) heading into Sunday, that kind of stability in the back-end of the bullpen is making this team awfully difficult to beat, and increasingly difficult to overlook — just ask the high-powered Braves.