When the Pittsburgh Pirates headed north from Bradenton, Fla., fans were hopeful that the starting pitching staff – anchored by burgeoning star Gerrit Cole and the re-signed veterans Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett – could be as good a staff as the team’s 2014 rotation when they put up a 3.60 ERA for the year and helped the Bucs secure a wild card berth.
As the Pirates, winners of seven straight, prepare to try and sweep a four-game home and home set from the Chicago White Sox tonight on the south side of the Windy City, fans are still reeling from the 35 and 2/3 straight scoreless innings rattled off by the team. It wasn’t just exciting. It wasn’t merely historical. It was pure magic.
The best scoreless inning streak for the Pirates since 1972, led by those horses in the rotation, has helped to propel the Bucs to 11 games over .500 and to the top of the statistical leader board in a plethora of categories. It has also shattered, at least for the time being, preseason prognostications from across sporting world regarding Pirates’ hurlers.
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Consider this: the Washington Post ranked the Pirates’ staff eighth best in the league before the season began. Bleacher Report also ranked them eighth. Fansided ranked them 13th. And, keep in mind, all of those predictions had the rotation as it is currently constructed. Cole. Liriano. Burnett. Morton. Locke.
Now consider this: the Pittsburgh Pirates starters have amassed more wins than any team in baseball with 32, have the best ERA at 2.83 and are second with a WHIP of just 1.16. The starters are fifth in the league in strikeouts tallying an impressive 368 through June 17.
Of those three publications that predicted the fate of the starting rotations around MLB before the first pitch on Opening Day, all three picked the Washington Nationals as the best staff in the league. Of course, injuries must be taken into account, but the stat lines for the two rotations could not be more removed. The Nationals starters have won 25 games, but lost 23 (Bucs starters have only lost 15); National starters have an ERA of 4.08 and a WHIP of 1.33 and they have struck out 29 fewer batters.
If these statistics aren’t cause for enough celebration by Bucco Nation, here are a few more that are simply stupid in their stupendousness:
- When you combine the Pirates starters’ stats with the bullpen, their team ERA dips to 2.73. And the team’s WHIP remains at the paltry 1.16 clip.
- In April, the Pirates starters were second in MLB in ERA. In May they were third. In June they are first and it isn’t close.
- In June the starters have amassed a 12-3 record with a 1.74 ERA and a WHIP of 1.00. Those stats lead the league by considerable margins.
- And here is a kicker that might often get overlooked – the starters have allowed just 25 homeruns on the year, the fewest of any rotation in baseball. Factor in the bullpen stats and that number jumps to 38 – still the lowest in MLB. The Cardinals are second surrendering 41. The Nationals are next haven given up 47 long balls.
So, in the end what are we left with?
Magic. That’s what.
Imagine if Locke can continue to elevate his play to match the performances of his colleagues. After all, he has gone 12 innings in his last two starts and given up just two earned runs.
Imagine if these guys can continue to feed off one another and create even more momentum as they push down the stretch with an offense that is finally starting to produce in the ways experts thought it could. (They were 12th in the National League in hitting in April, fourth in May and are third in June, batting .271 for the month with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Francisco Cervelli and Jung Ho Kang leading the way.)
Imagine if Morton can maintain even something reminiscent of his first five starts throughout the remainder of the season.
Imagine of Liriano can remain a rock in the rotation and a strikeout machine when he is rolling.
Imagine if Burnett can continue his brilliance and is named to his first All Star game in what is likely his final season with the team that clearly means so much to him.
Imagine if Cole can challenge for the National League Cy Young Award at the tender age of 24.
Just imagine. I know I am.