Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. Will the real Pirates please stand up?

Don't look now, but the Pirates are only 1 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. Can you say Pennant Race?
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde / United Archives/GettyImages

Who are the 2024 Pirates?  Thus far through 48 games, the Pirates have been MLB’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Are they a good team or are they a bad team?  It all depends on how you want to interpret the data.  

Are they the same old Pirates, destined for another losing season?  Or are they an above-average team like the one that we just saw take three of four from the Cubs?  Are they a team that can hit and score runs with the elite teams, as they did in two of their wins against the Cubs, in which they scored nine and 10 runs, respectively?  Or, are they the team that could only muster three runs against the lowly Oakland A’s in the entirety of a three-game series in which they were swept?  Are they a team that can ride an above-average starting pitching rotation to the playoffs, or are they the team that, time and time again this year, has squandered great starting pitching?

A look at the Pirates' win-loss record over the past several weeks can lead to any number of conclusions. So, let’s examine some of the interpretations:

  • Do the Pirates stink? Well, since starting the season 9-2, the Pirates have gone 13-24, which is a .351 winning percentage. That’s 100-loss territory. Conclusion: The Pirates stink and are destined for another losing season.  Same old Pirates.
  • However, since the debacle in Oakland, the Pirates are 8-8. Conclusion: The Pirates don't stink, but they're a .500 team at best.
  • The Pirates are 5-5 against their top division rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs.  That’s not optimal, but it’s better than the 8-18 record they posted last year against those two teams.  Conclusion:  The Pirates are improving.
  • Since Paul Skenes joined the team, the Pirates are 5-4 and 2-0 when Skenes starts.  5-4 doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a .555 winning percentage, which stretched over a 162-game season would produce 90 wins.  Conclusion:  With Skenes now in the fold, the Pirates might actually be good.
  • The Pirates got swept by the Mets and the A’s.  They lost two out of three to the Angels (at home, no less), and suffered the same fate against the Giants.  Conclusion:  The Pirates stink.  Same old Pirates.
  • The Pirates took two out of three against the Orioles and have played .500 ball against the Cubs, Brewers, and Phillies.  Conclusion:  The Pirates are better than you think.
  • The Pirates are 24th in run production after 48 games.  Conclusion:  The Pirates can’t hit and will end up with a losing record.  Same old Pirates.
  • A week ago, the Pirates were 28th in the league in run production.  They have moved up four spots in a week’s time.  Conclusion:  The Pirates are improving offensively.
  • The Pirates have blown 13 leads this year. In one game, relief pitchers walked in six runs in one inning. Conclusion: The Pirates' bullpen stinks, and they cannot win with a stinky bullpen. Same old Pirates.
  • In two of the victories against Chicago, Chapman, Holderman, and Bednar protected leads that resulted in the Pirates' victory. Conclusion: The bullpen's worst days are behind them, and more Pirates victories should follow.

However you want to interpret the data—good or bad—one would expect the following to happen.  A good team typically cobbles together a couple of prolonged winning streaks on its way to the playoffs, while a bad team typically cobbles together a couple of prolonged losing streaks on its way to mediocrity.

Since the debacle in Oakland, the Pirates have done neither. The past 16 games have seen a three-game winning streak, a three-game losing streak, and .500 ball in between. In short, the past 16 games have done nothing to prove the theory that this will be the same old Pirates, nor has it done anything to prove that the Pirates are playoff-bound. 

Presently, the Pirates are 22-26.  They are in third place in the National League Central, six games out of first place.

But here’s the funny thing.  You don’t have to win the division to make the playoffs.  And in 2024, you may not even need a winning record.  As I write this, only five teams in the National League have winning records.  But six will make the playoffs.

So, despite a 22-26 record, the Pirates find themselves only 1 ½ games out of a playoff spot. 

So, in my opinion, it’s definitely a “do you think the glass is half full or half empty” situation.  I’m a “glass is half full” kind of fan.  I can’t imagine that a team with a rotation of Skenes, Jones, and Keller and a bullpen with Bednar, Holderman, and Chapman will be bad. 

And here’s the other funny thing.  I sense that Pirates fans are coming around to the glass is half full side of things.  I have no data to back this up, but ever since Skenes debuted, there has been a positive buzz surrounding this team.  You can see it in the media and within the various fan sites, such as Rum Bunter, for instance, about the Pirates.  You can hear it on the sports talk shows. For decades Pirates devotees’ voices have been drowned out by the tortured fan base who voice their displease at the team loudly and at every turn and with every losing streak.  But the cry of “Same old Pirates” is slowly, this year, being replaced by the more softly spoken, “Hey, these guys might actually have a chance.”

The National League is definitely down this year.  A playoff spot is very much still up for grabs. 

Even at 22-26 the Pirates are in it, only a game and a half out of a playoff spot. 

As you look over the National League landscape, do any of the teams other than the Phillies and the Braves have a better starting rotation than the Pirates? Heck, there is an argument to be made that the Pirates' rotation - should Paul Skenes and Jared Jones keep doing their thing - may be able to go toe-to-toe with theirs.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde indeed.  But, this might be a year that Mr. Hyde makes the playoffs and causes all kinds of playoff havoc.  And how entertaining will that be.

Pirates fans, get on the bandwagon.  There’s a playoff race going on.