It’s all there for the Pirates this year: They’ve had their best start in over twenty years, they’ve sent five players to the All-Star Game, and they have the most complete team on the field that they’ve had in an exceedingly long time. The starting rotation is anchored by a couple of ace left-handed pitchers in Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano this year, and is plenty deep as well. The bullpen is the best in baseball, and the Shark Tank is bursting at the seams with talent; even the junior members at AAA Indianapolis are showing that they can compete out of the bullpen at a major league level, creating depth that previously wasn’t there.
The offense isn’t exactly what you’d call spectacular. It gets the job done many nights, but it sits near the bottom of the league in many of the main statistical categories. Can the offense start to hit better against lefties? Will Neal Huntington make moves that could immediately improve the team – either via trade, or by calling up some of the talent from AAA? Will dead weight like Michael McKenry and Brandon Inge finally be removed? This offense has been good enough to this point in the season, but it must improve if the Pirates want to be serious contenders this year, which they ought to be.
Finishing this year won’t take a Herculean effort. In order to “finish” and make the playoffs, realistically speaking, the Pirates will need to play approximately .500 ball to fend off the Nationals and any other contenders for the second wild card. If the Pirates play .500 over the second half, the teams chasing them would have to play at least .660 ball over the same period. No team in Major League Baseball has played at that high of a winning percentage this year. All of this says a lot about the position the Pirates find themselves in as we move towards the dog days of the season, but we’ve seen them screw it up before. It won’t take any kind of unbelievable hot streak to get it done, just some mediocre baseball. Obviously, we’d rather they play at the high level they have so far, but it’s not necessary for them to keep their current pace all year.
So, what will it take for the Pirates to finish this season well and gain their first playoff berth since 1992?
2. They must compete well against teams in their division. The Pirates face the Reds and Cardinals a combined total of twenty-three times over the second half. Those games will tell us a lot about the Pirates and, in addition to that, will be instrumental in deciding both the division and order of wild cards headed into the postseason.
3. They ought to make a move at the deadline, for either a bat (preferably a corner outfielder), a starting pitcher (not named Matt Garza), or both. One or both of those moves would be instrumental in shoring up the weaknesses of the Pirates, and would help them to continue to compete for the remainder of the season.
If the Pirates are able to complete these three objectives – or even two of them – we will be watching Pirate baseball in October. If not, it could get ugly, and the Pirates might head for their third straight second half collapse. I pray that’s not going to happen this time around. This team is the most trustworthy of any Pirates team in a long time. Expect them to finish this year, and get ready for some October baseball.