Off-days on the schedule are always a good time to reflect back on what’s happened so far with the team you’re following. A little break in the six-month grind lets you sit back with a few of your favorite beverages and contemplate the universe and your favorite team’s current standing in it.
Pittsburgh Pirate fans have to be happy.
Only the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals at 47-29 have a better record in all of baseball than the Pirates, who besides the Cards are the only team in either league with 30 or fewer losses. A 46-30 tally has the Bucs playing .605 baseball. Not too shabby for a team that, once again, many had picked to finish last. With almost half a season in the books, the Pirates are looking very good right now.
How are they doing it? Suffice to say, with a .241 team BA ranked 25th overall, it’s been pitching, pitching and more pitching that has propelled them to their best start since the Barry Bonds-era. In a virtual tie with the Atlanta Braves and the Cardinals for first in team ERA at 3.21, opposing batters are hitting a league-wide low of only .227 against Pirate pitching.
The hitting is coming on though, with Pirate 3B Pedro Alvarez leading the way. Homering in his last four games, his 19 dingers rank him an NL second only to the 21 of Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies. Their best player, Andrew McCutchen has yet to find his groove; yet for many his .289 BA/8HR/38RBI would be more than acceptable. Not mention his 15 stolen bases; McCutchen is poised to lead the Pirates to a second half of the season they’ve been hoping for the last two summers.
Yes, we’ve seen this Pirates’ act before the past two years; a great first half followed by unbelievably bad second one that leaves you wondering who kidnapped the players and gave these bums their uniforms. But there’s a little something different this year than any of the previously recent ones.
Depth and experience.
The Pirates are knee-deep in pitching, with players from the minor leagues pushing the current big leaguers to perform well or get out of the way. Leading the way is Gerrit Cole, but others now up with the team, like Brandon Compton, Ryan Reid, Duke Welker all show promise of taking the next step and becoming capable big league pitchers. And their Indianapolis Indians Triple-A team’s 3.30 ERA leads the International League in team ERA also.
Current starters AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, Francisco Lirano, Jeanmar Gomez, Charlie Morton, not mention Cole and Compton, have all been better than just good for the Pirates this year. Throw in James McDonald and Jeff Karstens eventually coming back from injury and you have more than enough starting pitching to carry you through the rest of the summer.
And with Justin Wilson, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli closing out the last three innings of any contest the team has the lead in, many games become six-inning affairs for the Pirates. Add the excellent pitching of Tony Watson, Vin Mazzaro and Bryan Morris, all capable of picking up the slack for any of the super three mentioned above, and you have a very tough team to beat.
The Pirates themselves are well aware of the collapses the past two summers and if anything, the experience should fortify them against repeating such mistakes once again this year. Like Sisyphus in Greek mythology, continually rolling that stone up the hill only to have it roll back down on him again, eventually the Pirates are going to figure out a way to push it to the top and over the other side.
Pirates fans cannot be anything but happy.