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Are the Pirates for real?

Josh LevittSenior Analyst IApril 23, 2009

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 13:  Nate McLouth #13 of the Pittsburgh Pirates swings at the pitch during the Opening Day game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on April 13, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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At 9-6, the Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to their best start since 2002. After sweeping the first place Florida Marlins this week, things are looking pretty good in Pirate-ville right now.

But the question remains: is this team for real, or a fluke?

First baseman Adam LaRoche chimes in:

"I feel like we took advantage of every mistake they made, every little thing, whether it's stealing a bag, scoring on a passed ball -- we took advantage of opportunities," Adam LaRoche said. "I think that proves we're a pretty good team and it's not just a fluke. You come in and play the best team in baseball and sweep them, that's saying something."

While I admit that it's encouraging to see the Pirates play so well against the Marlins, I'm very doubtful that this team is actually for real. There is simply not enough talent there right now, especially after the injury to star catcher Ryan Doumit. The Cubs, Cardinals, and even the Reds are far more talented than the Pirates right now.

But with that said, there are a number of pieces on this team that I am intrigued by. The starting pitching, led by Paul Maholm and Zack Duke, has been fantastic so far and has enabled the Pirates to win some close games early on. No one of the Pirates starting staff has an ERA above 4.25, so hell, if they can keep this pace up, the Pirates could actually remain competitive. But it remains to be seen as to what the Pirates can expect out of young guns like Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf over the course of the entire season.

And what's been most refreshing about the Pirates start so far has been the work of their bullpen, namely John Grabow and Matt Capps. These two have combined to give up zero earned runs in 13 IP, which has been a major stabilizing force for the young ballclub. The Pirates will go as far as their pitching will take them, which in years past has been the reason why the team has fallen apart.

As for the offense, there appears to be limited upside, especially after losing Doumit. Adam LaRoche has performed magnificently well this April, but when comes back down to Earth, who will pick up the slack outside of Nate McLouth? It remains to be seen what the Pirates will get out of Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche, but there is no doubt that the pressure to produce rests solely on these two young guys.

Simply put, I don't think the Pirates will be able to maintain this pace all season. The real Pittsburgh Pirates are not close to being a playoff team-yet. The Pirates will have to do a lot more than sweep the Marlins to prove to me that they are a good team.

In the end, if the Pirates continue to play well, it'll be a major boost for Pittsburgh and Pirates fans, however many of them are still out there. It'd be nice to see the Pirates become buyers during the trade deadline instead of sellers, for once. More than likely, by the time July 31 rolls around, potential free agents like Adam LaRoche, John Grabow, Freddy Sanchez, and Jack Wilson will all be shopped as the Pirates continue to build for a bright future that still seems far away.

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