It is time to recognize the Pittsburgh Pirates as true contenders in the NL Central. Many have bit lips, praying some cruel force of nature does not throttle this baseball team back into oblivion. But while anything is possible, all indications point to this not happening.
Forget seeking just a winning record. At 56-42, these Pirates' confidence is growing that this team is on a magical voyage to capture playoff booty for the first time in decades.
Say what you will about Pittsburgh’s offensive woes. Yes, the Pirates are 23rd in the MLB in runs (394) and batting average (.244), and 28th in on base percentage (.299), according to ESPN. And yes, this club can frustrate fans at times with an offense that vanishes as fast as it appears.
That is unless you are Andrew McCutchen, of course. Put bluntly, this fourth-year star is playing in a world of his own right now. Through 94 games, McCutchen has a .368 batting average (131-for-356) with 22 home runs and 66 RBI. He also has 17 doubles, five triples and 14 stolen bases. McCutchen’s OBP/SLG/OPS is a remarkable .425/.629/1.054.
Neil Walker has also been solid for Pittsburgh. He is currently batting .293 with nine home runs and 47 RBI.
Better yet, Pittsburgh bringing up Starling Marte—who has been a spark at every level he has played at—will give the Pirates' at times anemic offense a much needed boost.
That said, what Pittsburgh misses with hitting, it makes up for with an MLB sixth-best pitching staff.
This staff is led by a refreshed A.J. Burnett. With a 12-3 record and a very respectable 3.52 ERA, Burnett has all but put his struggles as a New York Yankee behind him.
James McDonald has also pitched great for the Pirates. Currently, he is 10-4 with a 3.15 ERA. He has struck out 110 hitters while walking just 43. McDonald’s WHIP is 1.12.
Former Detroit Tiger Jason Grilli has a team leading 25 holds.
Juan Cruz has added 13 more holds for the Pirates.
These guys have been great at setting things up for Joel Hanrahan, who has 30 saves for Pittsburgh. As a team, the Pirates have 36 saves. This leads the league by two saves over another surprising big league team—the Baltimore Orioles.
Add the recently acquired left-handed hurler Wandy Rodriguez to the mix, and Pittsburgh is on track to become even better.
Defensively, Pittsburgh has been efficient as well. The team has committed 58 errors, which is good for 11th in the league. With a .984 team fielding percentage, Pittsburgh is tied with the Boston Red Sox for 10th overall.
Individually, Pirates first baseman Casey McGehee boasts an outstanding .996 fielding percentage. McCutchen also has a .995 mark in center field.
Statistics aside, Pittsburgh also seems to have that it factor, a swagger of sorts that is a challenge to apply metrics to. This team has brought excitement to the Steel City that has been missing for a long time.
The situation seems similar to what is unfolding in Baltimore. Orioles fans are still talking baseball in late July, as opposed to drowning their baseball sorrows in the upcoming NFL season like in years past.
To have both baseball and football to talk about in Pittsburgh is a cause for cheer in its own right.
And to have a ballpark filled with excited Bucs' fans this time of year—well, this is even better.