With Break Approaching, Pittsburgh Pirates Are Right Where They Want to Be

Ryan GauleCorrespondent IJune 24, 2014

Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen (22) grounds out to Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist during the first inning of an interleague baseball game Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Pirates' Gregory Polanco scored on the play. Catching for the Rays Jose Molina. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

After reaching the postseason for the first time since 1992 in 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates entered the 2014 regular season feeling good about the team's chances.

However, after a 12-20 start through the team's first 32 regular-season games, many were quick to write them off.

After defeating the Tampa Bay Rays by a score of 6-5 Tuesday evening, the Pirates are back over the .500 mark at 39-38 for the first time since April 14, when they were 7-6.

The All-Star break is quickly approaching, and for a while, it didn't look like the Pirates would head into the break with a glimmer of hope.

Now, Pittsburgh is slowly climbing back into the playoff picture, as its victory Tuesday night put it just 3.0 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild-card spot.

The Pirates have now won five out of their last six games, as stellar pitching has kept the team in games.

Pittsburgh's pitching staff has allowed 19 runs in the past six games, which is good for an average of just over three runs per game. If that holds up throughout the second half of the season, the Pirates will be a tough team to beat.

Since former closer Jason Grilli was removed from his role at the back end of the bullpen, Mark Melancon has thrived, picking up three saves in the last five games.

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 22:  Relief pitcher Mark Melancon #35 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 22, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 2-1.  (Photo by Bria
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

The Pirates have also come up with some timely hitting to go along with the great pitching, squeezing out two one-run victories in the past six games.

Pittsburgh also received a major boost to the lineup Tuesday when second baseman Neil Walker was activated from the disabled list.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 24:  Neil Walker #18 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after striking out looking to pitcher Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays to end the top of the first inning of a game on June 24, 2014 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Walker went 0-for-3 in his first game back, but he did drive in a run. Walker is batting .277 on the season with 11 home runs, and he has become a dangerous force in Pittsburgh's lineup.

The highly anticipated arrival of top prospect Gregory Polanco finally came to an end on June 11 when he was called up to the majors. Since then, Polanco has hit safely in 13 of his first 14 games played.

Polanco is bursting onto the scene in many ways the same as Yasiel Puig did with the Dodgers in 2013 when he helped spark an incredible second half and led them into the playoffs.

He is proving that he belongs at the top of that lineup, and fans in Pittsburgh are hoping that he can provide that spark as well for the Pirates in 2014.

The Pirates are 7.5 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central Division, so there is a lot of ground to cover if they wish to win the division title.

However, the Pirates will be fully loaded in the second half of the season, and a 7.5-game lead can be erased in only about a week's worth of games. They have the pieces needed to make a run at the playoffs again in 2014, and this season is still very young for a team full of promise and potential.


*Statistics courtesy of MLB.com.