MLB Bold Predictions: Why the Pittsburgh Pirates Will Win the NL Pennant
After defeating the Houston Astros Wednesday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates held a one-game lead in the NL Central for the first time this late in the season since 1997. For Pittsburgh fans, the summer usually means looking forward to the Steelers upcoming season and watching the off-season moves that the Penguins make...but not this summer.
The Buccos are for real, and I know that they made a similar run last year, but this years team is proving to be no fluke. In comparison to last year, there is a better and deeper pitching staff along with young bats that are starting to come alive as the all-star game approaches.
After watching them for the last month or so, I am not only ready to say that they will eventually run away with the NL Central division, but that they will head into the playoffs with full force and will win the Pennant as well.
Here are a few reasons why:
Given that I am only 21 years old, I don't remember the last time that a member of the Pirates was involved in MVP talks. Maybe back when the Buccos were last relevant in the early mist of the 90's, but I was barely crawling back then, so cut me a little slack.
McCutchen was named the National League Player of the Month in June and has continued his tear into July. Cutch is currently hitting .360, has a .412 OBP, 16 homers, 54 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
He has 14 hits in his last five games and has been just as stellar in the field as he has at the plate. One thing that every winning team always has is a great leader, and McCutchen has developed into that guy. He plays the most vocal position, besides catcher, when he takes his place at center field, and he is a player that only cares about winning and not individual accolades.
Who Will Win the NL Central This Year?
McCutchen is only 26 years old, but he is ready to put this team on his back and take them all the way to the World Series.
Over the past decade, it was common for the Pirates to have one solid starter in the rotation and usually one or two more guys in the bullpen that could be counted on to have decent outings on a regular basis. They now have multiple guys that can go into any situation and one of the best closers in the game in Joel Hanrahan.
A.J. Burnett and James McDonald are a combined 17-5 this season and have been leading perhaps the most surprising pitching staff in the big leagues this year. I already mentioned Hanrahan, who only had two blown saves all year before blowing one Tuesday night against Houston, but their middle relievers have been great as well.
Jason Grilli has been stellar out of the pen, and his 1.93 ERA this season leads all middle relievers on the Bucks roster. He has been a great set-up man for Hanrahan, and they have been one of the best one-two punches in the league.
Other notable relief pitchers are Jared Hughes, who is 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA in 41 innings pitched, and Juan Cruz, whose 2.54 ERA this season is a huge improvement from a career average of 4.06.
The best way to explain how the bats have gotten hot over the last five weeks or so is to explain how the game Tuesday night ended.
After Joel Hanrahan gave up a run to blow the save in the top of the ninth, the Pirates had a tie ballgame going into the bottom half of the inning with the top of their lineup ready to take the plate. McCutchen was due up third and was the most likely guy to get the big hit to give them a chance to win the game.
Enter Drew Sutton, who hasn't hit a home run all season. With one out and nobody on base, Sutton blasted a hanging slider to dead center field over the wall, and the Pirates tied the Reds for the division lead.
Different guys have continued to step up over the past month, and in order to be a great team, timely hitting has to happen. It has, and the Bucs are benefiting from it.
Zoltan. If you have seen the movie Dude, Where's My Car? then you will remember the part where Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott encounter the people who wear bubble-wrapped jumpsuits and hail to their great leader: Zoltan.
The Pirates have been using this symbol after big hits and great plays in the field, and it seems to really be connecting the team in the oddest of ways.
Here is an excerpt from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describing how the fad got started:
Andrew McCutchen (and Zoltan) have led the Pirates to the top of the NL Central Division.
"It all started in Atlanta when we were watching [television] in the clubhouse, and there was nothing we wanted to watch," said second baseman Neil Walker, recalling the last weekend in April. We saw Dude, Where's My Car? And guys were like 'Oh, we haven't seen this in a while.' So we watched it. It was just so terrible and stupid. We just pulled that from it. It's just kind of our team way of bonding, I guess."
No matter if it is something silly, chemistry is arguably the biggest reason that teams make it far into the playoffs. Over a 162 game season, the guys spend a lot of time with each other, and if they can find a way to joke around and have some fun on the field, that is only going to help them in the long run.
Even though it seems completely and utterly absurd to think that the Pittsburgh Pirates will not only make the playoffs but win the National League Pennant, know that it is 100 percent possible.
All the pieces are in place: an offensive superstar, depth in the bullpen, timely hitting and a great sense of team chemistry.
I'm sure a lot of people thought that the Mayans would correctly predict the world's end before the Pirates won the Pennant, but this year is their year!
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