Pirates fans are an odd bunch, anyone loyal enough to follow a team that’s lost for two straight decades must be. That loyalty is great, but the further the Pirates season goes on, the collapse prediction crowd grows louder and more clamorous, telling everyone who will listen “I always knew this would happen!” and “Mark my words this team will finish in third place!” ad nauseum. Why they do this, I don’t know, but I have a guess. They want the Pirates to lose. They’ve become so used to being a miserable last place team with 15,000 fans in attendance at games, that some of the fans can’t handle the change.
Why anyone would be so miserable as to want a team to lose just so they can say “I was right, I wasn’t hoodwinked like you” and that’s not a good attitude to have towards a team. There’s such a thing as realistic expectations, but you have to be realistic on both sides. No Pirates fan in their right mind would look at this year’s team and say they’re going to win 120 games, just as no fan in their right mind would look at this team and say they’d lose 100 games. It’s not about being super happy go lucky about the team at all times, it’s about being reasonable.
The Pirates have lost four straight games, and that hurts, but let’s put things in perspective here. They’re twenty-two games over .500 on August fourteenth. Their odds of making the playoffs this year are 98.6%, and they still have the best odds by far of any N.L. Central team to win their division. The fifth pitcher on the starting staff has an ERA of 3.79, they have the best team ERA in the N.L., and the bullpen is one of the deepest and best in the league, with worthy guys ready to step up from AAA at a moment’s notice.
At the plate the Pirates are less impressive, but they still have an MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, a twenty-four year old outfielder who’s eighth in the league among position players in WAR in Starling Marte, and the second best home run hitter in the league in Pedro Alvarez (who’s also eighth in RBI). This is not the 2011 or 2012 team. It’s not the poor team that got by for a while in 2011, or the mediocre one that got by for longer in 2012, this is the best team the Pirates have put on the field since the early 1990s, and there’s no reason for this team to be viewed as another team that’s going to collapse.
Like it or not, these Pirates aren’t just a winning team, but they’re a playoff team and a built to be a legitimate contender for several years. If by some stroke of insane, Steve Bartman-esque bad luck the Pirates fall apart over the next six weeks like a poorly rolled cigar, and you called it, congratulations, you guessed better than the rest of us. Until then, can we hold off on the collapse talk because of one bad (and slightly disconcerting) stretch of games?