“How ‘bout them Buccos?”
“I dunno, man. I seen them last night and that Starling Marte needs to start hittin’ them long balls again if they’re goin’ anywhere.”
“Yeah, and that Mark Melancon did blow another save and when you add it up they just ain’t near as good as them Cardinals.”
This conversation about the Pittsburgh Pirates, or variations of it, has been repeated with steadily rotating players and concerns in offices and at construction sites, in bars and living rooms around southwestern Pennsylvania on a daily basis this summer. And it will no doubt continue through the final 40-odd games of the pennant chase in Pittsburgh.
And, why? Because, yinz guys don’t know how good them Buccos really are!
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Sure the season has been frustrating at times, after a subpar start and with the normal ebbs and flows associated with a 162-game slog – but, goodness gracious what a season! More than two dozen games above .500 with a month and a half to go? Are you kidding me! But that seems to be lost in the daily grind as the Pirates chase the unbelievable, unshakable and downright annoying Cardinals into September. That’s the shame of it – just what is being taken for granted along the way.
The Pirates are on pace to be one of the very best wild card teams since the league implemented the wild card system in 1994. I’m predicting 99 wins, and even at that gaudy mark they could still finish as just the first wild card team. Albeit the best National League wild card team ever, but still not division champs.
So what if the Pirates accomplish what it appears they can and should? Many black and gold fans will still view the season through the prism of defeat simply because of the division the team is locked in – the absolute best in baseball with a bullet. No room for argument. The end. In fact, let’s play the “what if” game for just a minute.
What if the Pirates could swap places with say the Kansas City Royals and join the AL Central? Well, they would be headed into the playoffs with a lead of more than a dozen games over the second place Twins.
What if they swapped out with the New York Mets? Surely the competition would be more stiff, right? Nope. The Bucs would have a double digit games lead on the second place Washington Nationals.
More than two dozen games above .500 with a month and a half to go? Are you kidding me!
Moreover, if you could just let them slide over to the NL East or the NL West, the Pirates would still be outpacing the Metropolitans or the Los Angeles Dodgers by larger margins than those that separate the Bucs from the Red Birds.
But, I digress. We are stuck bearing down on St. Louis and with monitoring a pesky Chicago Cubs team that is so very good themselves that they could play this same game and realize all their own “what ifs” for their young squad.
So, where does that leave us as the team winds up into the final push for the central? With a simple reminder: count your blessings, Bucco fans.
Remember your perennial MVP candidate anchoring the lineup and center field and Jung Ho Kang, your legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, mopping up basically everything hit his way at third or short night in and night out.
Think about that hot bat of Pedro Alvarez and what it is like to know you have a guy on the team that can, with the flick of the wrist, put Rawlings into the river.
Think about the brilliance of the entire pitching staff, even with their hiccups, and how they, much more often than not, keep your team in games until another offensive hero emerges.
Think of Francisco Cervelli and the moon hitting your eye.
Think of A.J. Burnett working to get back. One last time. For him. For you.
Think of a beautiful ballpark bursting at the seams in late September with a team on the field that can play with anyone in baseball, and, more often than not, beat anyone in baseball.
Just think about it, yinz guys.
Wild card or Division champion, October can’t come soon enough.