After a stellar 2013 season in which they went 94-68 and won the National League Wild Card Game, the Pittsburgh Pirates appear to be on track for another great season in 2014.
Backed by the big bats of Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin, the Pirates have a dangerous lineup that can power their way to the top of the standings throughout the season.
Pittsburgh came back from a 4-0 deficit to defeat the Chicago Cubs Thursday, improving their overall record to 6-3 on the young season.
The most amazing thing about their hot start is that the Pirates own a team batting average of just .234 through the first nine games. However, it has been timely hitting that has saved Pittsburgh early on in the season, as we saw on Thursday.
On Opening Day, the Pirates and Cubs were scoreless until the bottom of the 10th inning, when second baseman Neil Walker blasted a walk-off solo home run to give Pittsburgh its first victory of the season.
With that, the pitching has been stellar so far with a team earned run average of only 3.17.
Despite the injury to starting pitcher Jeff Locke and the questionable effectiveness of players coming off injury-plagued 2013 seasons in Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez, the Pirates' pitching staff is keeping their team in games.
Among the stars in the rotation is Gerrit Cole, who opened eyes with his impressive 2013 rookie season in which he went 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA. Cole improved to 2-0 on the season after he struck out 10 batters and allowed three earned runs in 6.0 innings Thursday.
Pirates' ace Francisco Liriano looks like he is out to prove that his 16-win 2013 season was no fluke. In 12.0 innings pitched in 2014, Liriano has pitched to a 3.00 ERA while striking out 14 batters.
In Volquez's first start, he held the St. Louis Cardinals to only one run over 5.1 innings, and manager Clint Hurdle was extremely pleased with his performance.
According to Tom Singer of MLB.com, Hurdle was asked about Volquez's performance after the game, saying: "He had an outstanding start. Will he have that start every time? Probably not. But just to get to that point, where he knows he can do it again ... just more positive reinforcement on what he has already bought into."
For now, the back end of Pittsburgh's rotation is holding up, and that is extremely important for the success of the Pirates going forward.
Pittsburgh's quick 6-3 start is the franchise's best through its first nine games since the 2003 season in which they also went 6-3 but finished the season with an overall record of 75-87. However, that does not mean much with the amount of talent they have this season, as it is hard to see them slowing down.
*Statistics Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.