PITTSBURGH – The Pirates are two games above .500 this late in the season for the first time since the Clinton Administration, and there's one good reason for it.
The staff ranks among the top half in earned run average (fifth) and quality starts (eighth) in the National League. No fewer than five members are in the midst of career seasons – starters Kevin Correia, Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm and Charlie Morton and closer Joel Hanrahan.
The obvious question is: can the mound corps carry the load for another three-plus months? Realistically, how much longer can this last?
I posed the question to three major league scouts, all of whom had seen the team play in the last few weeks. Here's what they had to say:
Scout A: "They're much better than last year, obviously. [Pitching coach] Ray Searage deserves a lot of credit. For the most part, this is the same group that they had last year. What that tells me is, they're not as good are they are now. It is a long season. Water will seek its level even in a mud hole.
“Morton is the guy who doesn't surprise me. He always had talent. What he lacked was confidence. They should have sent him down [to the minor leagues] earlier last year. It didn't do him any good to get beat up here. He's a different pitcher now.”
Do you consider the Pirates to be a legitimate Central Division contender?
Scout B: “Except for Morton maybe, I see a lot of four and fifth starters in their rotation. So maybe these will be career years for the other guys. They throw strikes, and you can't ask for more than that. When you put the ball in play, you just let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully, it will last for them all season.
“It's hard to argue what Hanrahan has done this season. He throws a lot harder than I remember a few years ago. I have some doubts about [Chris] Resop and [Jose] Veras, though. They throw hard, but Resop doesn't have a lot of movement on his pitches and Veras struggles with his command at times.”
Scout C: “From what I've seen, their starters get the most out of their abilities. They're aggressive and throw strikes. As long as the defense plays well behind them, they may be able to hold their own for awhile.
“Hanrahan's numbers speak for themselves. Good for him. Now I want to see him do it in big games. It's one thing to dominate in April, May and June, and it's another to do it with a contender in September. That's why somebody like Mariano Rivera is so rare.”
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