33,646 Pirates fans packed into PNC Park Thursday afternoon to watch the best team in baseball complete a 3-game sweep of the Miami Marlins. It was the second largest game attendance for a weekday afternoon start in PNC history. Russell Martin delivered a fitting end to the Pirates home stand, notching his fourth walk-off hit of the season, driving in Josh Harrison with two outs in the bottom of the tenth.
Something special is going on in Pittsburgh this summer. It has been a summer of firsts, of record setting, and most of all, of winning. The Pirates 70-44 record is the best in the majors, and the pitching staff boasts the best combined ERA and opponent BA. Pedro Alvarez currently leads the NL in homeruns, and Andrew McCutchen is the favorite to win the NL MVP. But this season has been about more than just statistics and records. This season is about the intangibles, that “something special,” because the statistics say the Pirates shouldn’t be this good. In fact, based on Baseball Prospectus’ adjusted win totals, the Pirates should only be in third place in then NL Central. But that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how many wins the Pirates actually have.
The playoffs, and I think we can all agree that they are almost a guarantee at this point, are a totally different animal. The roster has little combined playoff experience. Martin is the only every day hitter with significant playoff experience. The Cardinals and Reds have experience performing down the stretch. That doesn’t matter though. None of it does. Why? It may seem ludicrous, but what this team does in October does not matter. I know it sounds absurd, but it is true. This team has given us reason to believe. That is a word that Pittsburgh baseball fans didn’t know existed. Losing became normal for a club that has so much history. Pirates fans are witnessing the birth of a new era. Neal Huntington, for all the bad stick he gets, has built a winner. The system is stacked with young, promising talent. Clint Hurdle is the perfect manager for this clubhouse. The lineup finally has an anchor in a Marte, Walker, McCutchen, and Alvarez at one through four. The foundation for a consistent winner is in place.
The thing about baseball is anyone can win a baseball game. A single game doesn’t prove who is better. That’s why each team plays 162 games, because over that many games the law of averages will play-out. The teams with the most talent will win the most games. Unfortunately, once October comes around it is a complete crapshoot. Anyone can win a seven game playoff series. You don’t have to be the best team in the league to win, just the best team that week. There are zero guarantees in baseball. Just because the Pirates are the best team in baseball now doesn’t mean they won’t get swept in their first playoff series since 1992. It also doesn’t mean they won’t sweep their way to the World Series. The point is, anything can happen in October. The only thing Huntington can do is build a consistent winner, one that has a chance to compete in October every year, and that is exactly what he has done. Everything else will come in time.
So maybe the Pirates will win a playoff series this year. I don’t know. Maybe it will even be against the Braves. And maybe, just maybe, the curses of Sid Bream and Jerry Meals (ok, not really a curse but still) will be broken. But if not, that’s ok, because this team is built to win. This season has been something special and it is certainly far from over, but regardless of how it ends it will go down as one of the most historic seasons in Pirates history.