Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Game #5: Still undefeated. And more fun with small sample size stats

Pirates lead league in hits, walks, strikeouts and runners left on base

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates
Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Tampa Bay Rays started out the 2023 season by winning 13 games in a row.  While the Rays were a very good baseball team in 2023, the 13-game winning streak was aided in large part by a very easy April schedule.  The 13 wins were compiled against the Detroit Tigers, Oakland A’s, and Boston Red Sox, none of whom had a winning record in 2023. And although the Rays eventually lost to Toronto to break the 13-game winning streak, their schedule just kept getting easier. 

By the time April turned into early May, the Rays had been served up seven games against the last-place White Sox and three games against your Pittsburgh Pirates (whom they swept).  By May 5, the Rays record stood at 27-6. They were on pace to break all kinds of records.  But then the schedule self-corrected.  Gone was the steady diet of patsies.  The Rays had to start playing teams that actually had a winning record.   While the Rays continued to be a good team and play over .500 baseball, the Baltimore Orioles were eventually able to pass them in the standings and send the Rays to the Wild Card round of the playoffs.  A shame, given the Rays' 99 victories.

I bring up the Rays because the Pirates are currently undefeated.  And like the 2023 Rays, the Pirate's record has seemingly been aided by opening the season against two less-than-quality teams.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Pirates' schedule is about to get more challenging in the next few weeks, so this will not be like the 2023 Rays' April.  But, if the Pirates wish to be thought of as a contender, then they need to take care of business and beat the bad teams that the schedule might serve up for them. 

And the Pirates did just that yesterday, defeating the Washington Nationals 8-4.

In a change of script of sorts, in yesterday’s game, the Pirates got good starting pitching, but the bullpen gave up three runs.  In the end, the three runs given up didn’t matter.  The Pirates just grinded their way to another victory.  The game was close for seven innings, especially after Roansy Contreras surrendered a game-tying two-run homer to Washington's Riley Adams in the bottom of the 7th. But then the Pirates got into the Nationals bullpen—a bullpen that was somewhat gassed coming off some tight games in Cincinnati—and coasted to a victory in the final two innings, scoring five runs in the final two frames. Once again, the winning rally was started by a bunt single.

Everyone seemingly contributed to this victory.  The Pirates collected another 15 hits and drew six more bases on balls.  Marco Gonzales, making his Pirates debut, pitched a good game, going five innings and giving up only one run on four hits.

But because the Pirates scored eight runs, what gets lost in the shuffle is that they could have and should have scored more. The Pirates were 7-for-21 with runners in scoring position and stranded an astounding 15 baserunners in the game. 

After the second game of the season, we posted an article on small sample size statistics that showed the Pirates being on pace, after two games, of shattering many MLB records.  Well, after five games, they are still on pace to do so and then some.  Let’s look at a few:

  • The Pirates are averaging 7.8 runs per game. If they keep up that pace, they will score 1,264 runs, which will break the record of the 1894 Boston Beaneaters, who scored 1,220 runs.
  • The Pirates are averaging 12.2 hits per game.  If they maintain that pace through the season, they will end up with 1,976 hits, breaking the record of the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies who collected 1,783 hits that season.
  • The Pirates continue to lead the league in drawing walks.  They are averaging 6.4 walks per game.  If they maintain that pace, they will have 1,037 walks which will break the 1949 RedSox record of 835 walks in a season.
  • If there is a blemish on the Pirates' resume thus far this season, it is that they strike out a lot.  And these strikeouts are accumulating against mediocre pitching.  The Pirates are averaging 11.4 strikeouts per game.  If this pace keeps up, they will amass 1,847 strikeouts, which will break the record of 1,654 strikeouts set by the Minnesota Twins in 2023.  Willie Stargell would be proud.
  • The Pirates are averaging 12.2 runners left on base per game.  If they maintain that pace, they will end the season with 1,976, breaking the record of the 1941 St. Louis Browns, who left 1,334 runners on base.

The Pirates are now 5-0 on the young season.  They still have two more with Washington.  They will need to take care of business, as they say.  And if they do, they will return to Pittsburgh as a first-place team for the home opener.  Last year, the Pirates played the Washington Nationals in late April.  They won three of four to bring their record to 20-9.  But then they went on to play three AL East teams (Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore).  They lost eight of nine of those games, and their once-promising season went into a tailspin from there.

The Orioles will be a difficult test for the Pirates.

And that series will be a good measuring stick to determine whether the Pirates' improbable start is the result of an easy schedule or whether the Pirates are a legitimately good team ready to compete with the elite teams of MLB. 

But first, the Pirates need to continue to take care of business in Washington.