Backed by tremendous pitching and two very timely hits, the Pirates were able to get off to a nice 2-1 start to the season, as they now play host to the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle must be pleased with the way his team has played so far. However, there is no time to take their foot off the gas, as Pittsburgh can put itself in very good position in the National League Central division if it performs well this month.
Without factoring in the three games the Pirates already played against their division rival Cubs to start the season, the Pirates will play an NL Central opponent 23 more times this month.
Pittsburgh's pitching has been lights-out through three games this season, and if it can continue that trend and compile wins routinely, the Pirates can put themselves ahead of everyone by the end of the first month.
The only time the Pirates will play a team in a different division in April is at the very end of the month when they visit Baltimore to play the Orioles on April 29 and April 30.
Last season, the Pirates finished just three games behind St. Louis in the division. They would go on to lose to the Cardinals in the division series that fall.
The Pirates performed decently last April, finishing the first month of baseball with a 15-12 record. A few more victories in close ballgames could have earned them the division title over the Cardinals.
While an average April certainly didn't make or break the Pirates' season in 2013, performing well can have different implications this season due to the fact that they play 26 out of 28 games against opponents in their division.
Compare that to last season when the Pirates played a Central division opponent just 13 times out of 27 games total in April.
Pirates ace Francisco Liriano showed that his stellar 2013 season was no fluke when he pitched six shutout innings on Opening Day against the Cubs. As a whole, the pitching staff has allowed just six earned runs in 35.0 innings pitched.
Despite struggling to score runs throughout the opening series, the pitching held down the fort for the Pirates, and that is why they are 2-1 on the season.
The Cardinals have a team of returning veterans and young, dominant pitchers such as Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller.
The Cincinnati Reds will likely be in the playoff race for a majority of the season, although their team likely will not match up with Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
Even the Milwaukee Brewers have come out of the gates hot, showing their ability to swing the bat and hit the long ball, as catcher Jonathan Lucroy and center fielder Carlos Gomez have had good starts to their seasons.
With all that being said, the Pirates have to start getting the job done on offense and hope for consistency in their pitching staff to pull ahead in April.
While there is still plenty of baseball left to play after April, having a losing record can put the Pirates quickly in a hole. They do not want to be playing catch-up as the dog days of summer kick in, and they will not have to worry about that as long as they get the job done this month.
So, gaining distance between the other teams in their division early on this season can take some weight off of the shoulders of the men on the Pirates' pitching staff, which could also lead to the Pirates' first NL Central division title ever.
Statistics Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.