Coming into the season, the common perception of the Pirates was that they were, at best, an average ball club. Performing well against teams that are in a similar or worse category, however, could lead to Pittsburgh surprising some skeptics.
The past two seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been pretty mediocre. In fact, they’ve been slightly less than the standard definition of average. One of the reasons for that is the Pirates haven’t taken care of other teams either the same or a smaller boat. For example, in 2016, the Pirates were 1-6 against the Miami Marlins, who finished with 79 wins. The Bucs ended up winning 79 games. Last season, Pittsburgh went a combined 10-21 against the Reds, Giants and Padres, three teams who will be picking in the top ten of this year’s draft. They ended up winning 77 games.
If the Pirates were adequate against teams like Cincinnati the past two years, they’d have at least been .500. Maybe they could have even challenged for a wildcard spot. But partly because they stunk against teams that stunk, consecutive losing seasons followed.
In most sports, a team’s season is judged by how it performs against strong competition. In college football, an upstart school never earns its stripes until it can beat a top 10 program. In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are the standard to which all other teams are held. The New England Patriots hold the same standing in the NFL. Baseball is a little different.
The idea that a baseball team can’t earn its stripes until it proves it can hold its own against the best of the best is a myth. The worst club in baseball this year is still going to win a few games against playoff teams because there is such a large sample size.
If the Pirates can go .500 against teams that are “in their ballpark” who knows where takes them. Add into that the dozen of such games they’ll win against winning teams, and we might have something here.
Thus far, the Pirates are 8-6 against losing teams. They were 8-2 until this past weekends sweep at the hands of the Phillies. Pittsburgh has lost six of its last seven to Colorado and Philadelphia, two teams that could finish with a losing record in 2018. Imagine if the Bucs were 5-2 or 6-1 in those games? They’d be sitting pretty atop the NL Central, albeit early in the season.
While it would be nice for the Pirates to have success against teams like the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers, beating teams like the Reds and Marlins are equally vital. If the Bucs can do that consistently enough, maybe things can get a little interesting.