The Pirates are a competitive team this year, and it is no longer an incredibly uncommon thing. This team got everybody excited last year as well before falling apart in August and September, and now they are toying with Pittsburgh fans once again.
As you all have heard before, this year is different. That’s certainly true. It’s a different, more talented roster with a team that has experience in these situations before. I don’t want to point out the obvious or be too blindly optimistic, but here are some thoughts:
The Pirates have two legitimate aces in the rotation this year. Last year, the rotation when the Pirates were in first place was Morton – McDonald – Karstens – Maholm – Correia. Upgrade McDonald a bunch, keep Correia and Karstens the same, and then swap Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett in for Charlie Morton and Paul Maholm. That’s quite an upgrade. It’s certainly possible for this rotation to not pitch as well as they have been for the rest of the year, but things are looking a lot better for right now.
Andrew McCutchen is better. Yeah, Cutch had a nice season last year. He’s taken it to a completely different level this time around though. McCutchen hit .291/.390/.505 with 14 home runs and 15 stolen bases in the first half before making his first all-star game appearance in 2011. Right now he’s hitting .341/.397/.579 with 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases, with 12 games left before McCutchen’s second all-star appearance. He’s ready to make 2011 look like an off year and put up MVP like numbers.
Pedro Alvarez is still here. El Toro only made it to May 20 last year before he was forced back to AAA because of poor performance. He certainly hasn’t been great this year, and had Pittsburgh talking about demoting him again a few different times this year, but he’s shown some very good signs and is hitting very well right now. Pedro hit .208/.283/.304 with two home runs in 36 games before being sent down last year, and right now he’s sitting at .228/.295/.466 with 13 homers and, most importantly, a firm grip on the third base job. Alvarez has been a pretty big positive when you step back and really look at it.
There’s more help in the minors. Last year, the Pirates were pretty much stuck with what they had in the major leagues in terms of reinforcements. Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud were guys we thought could maybe come up and do some things, but the Pirates didn’t get too much out of either of them. Rudy Owens was having a horrible time of it at this point last year, Starling Marte was in AA, Tony Sanchez was struggling big time, and there just wasn’t much in general at the upper levels. This year, Marte is closer to the big leagues, Owens is having a stellar season, and Jeff Locke and Justin Wilson are putting up really nice numbers as well. There still isn’t much help in terms of offense, but the upper levels are stronger this year than last.
Experience might help. I’ve never been the biggest believer in this type of stuff, but I guess going through what they did last year couldn’t hurt them this year. I don’t know if it’s really going to help, but it might help them deal better with it. Who knows.
The Pirates have a long way to go still, and there’s never a reason to be sure about this team, but the light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright right now.