Can the Pirates Finally Get Over the Top?

Jason Grilli
Grilli has been spectacular as a closer for the Pirates this season.

In a city with perennial winners in football and on the ice, you may have hard time believing there is another professional sports team in Pittsburgh. In fact, the Steel City is one of the more impressive baseball cities with a devoted and knowledgeable¬†fan base who deserves a hell of a lot better than what they’ve dealt with since the early 1990’s.

The last two seasons, the Battling Buccos were in prime position to end one of the more ominous streaks in professional sports. At the All-Star break in both 2011 and 2012, the Pirates were on a pace that would have finally gotten them a winning season but late season collapses doomed the team and its’ fans.

The Pirates unfortunately extended their streak of losing seasons to 20 straight and teased their fans in the process with the possibility of not only a winning season, but also a playoff berth.

So now in 2013, you’ll have to excuse the fans if they are not exactly jumping for joy at the great start by their Bucs. They’ve seen this movie before and it ended tragically two straight times. Therefore, you’ll need to forgive them for remaining a bit skeptical despite the team’s 33-20 record entering their game against Detroit last night.

Besides fate and history itself, the Pirates are also battling two of the top teams in the National League.¬† At the current time, they are tied for second place with the Cincinnati Reds. The two teams are just two and a half games behind Central Division leader St. Louis. Obviously if you ask of the talking heads at FOX, ESPN or the MLB Network, they’ll tell you that of the three teams only the Cards and Reds have staying power.

It would be hard to disagree with that line of thinking based upon the last two seasons for Pittsburgh. So the question before us my fellow bettors is can this team finally make it to 82 wins and beyond? Let me give you some information that will help you decide.

Andrew McCutchen
'Cutch' is an outstanding player but he'll need help to get the Pirates over the top.

First of all, the Pirates are in the midst of a stretch of games where we may find out just how legitimate they actually are. After finishing a four-game set with Detroit, the Pirates will play Cincinnati seven times over the next month along with series against Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles and the Angels of Anaheim. Should they come through the next four weeks at .500 or better, taking them seriously might have to be considered.

When you look at the Pirates statistically, you kind of end up scratching your head a bit. They rank 20th in runs scored, and 24th, 22nd and 19th in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage respectively. What I found really striking was their total runs scored versus their two Central Division rivals. Both St. Louis and Cincy have scored 40 or more runs already this season than Pittsburgh while giving up basically the same amount.

So just where is this team finding success in 2013? Look no farther than the little mound of dirt in the middle of the diamond. The Pirates are second in the National League in pitching just behind St. Louis. They have a 3.19 earned run average and perhaps more shocking is that they are limiting opposing teams to an average of just .222 on the season. We also must consider that closer Jason Grilli is 22 for 22 in save opportunities and has an ERA of 1.09 and you’ve got the makings of a very strong bullpen and pitching staff.

My concern for the Pirates is offense. Will they be able to generate enough runs and will the ownership finally go out and get a big bat at the trade deadline or before? If the answer is ‘no’ to both of those questions, then 82 wins may still be a dream only.