Through those 54 games, the Pirates own one of the league’s best records at 34-20 and reside in second place in the NL Central. After one-third of the season, these 2013 Pirates are on pace for 102 wins. Yes, you read that right. Over 100 wins. Not losses…wins.
And with early success in 2013, questions are beginning to abound regarding the legitimacy of this I season’s Pirates. Through 54 games, I don’t know that you can rightfully answer those questions—but let’s try.
To start, the 34-20 record places the Pirates at a mark over .500 they didn’t reach until July 22 last season. That record is also the major league’s second-best mark so far. And recently, the Pirates appear to be playing better baseball with each game that passes.
After four games against the American League’s representative in the World Series last season, the Pirates took three out of four against the Detroit Tigers with two games played at Comerica and PNC Parks. Two of the Bucs’ three wins came by a score of 1-0, in 11 innings.
It’s a series pitcher Jeff Locke seems to think holds a lot of weight through what constitutes a third of the entire season.
“Obviously things are rolling pretty well,” Locke said. “You’ve gotta be happy with playing them well all series, to me it’s probably the series of the year for us.”
In Thursday night’s affair, Locke battled Detroit starter Doug Fister to a draw and Russell Martin hit a 400-foot single to bring Neil Walker home for another walk-off Pirates win. After his walk-off hit, though, Martin reiterated what many have heard from Pirates players this season.
“This whole team, they battle and we have fun doing it,” Martin said. “It just seems like every night or every other night it’s going to be somebody different, we’re all chipping in and it shows you a sign of a good team.”
While what’s been done this season certainly merits importance, but as most of us should have learned in elementary school it is important to look to the past to learn about the possibilities of the future.
Through 54 games in 2012, the Pirates sat at 28-26 before they caught fire in June and July and peaked at 16 games over .500 on August 8 but finished 79-83. It was a finish arguably more heart-wrenching than the 2011 collapse, and one that locked up the franchise’s 20th-consecutive losing season.
In fact, the Pirates would lead any other division in the majors beside the NL Central. But it just so happens—in what seems to be such a Pirate-themed cruelty—that the Pirates do not lead their own division because of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 36-18 record.
Regardless, if the season ended today the NL Central would have three playoff teams with the Cardinals taking the division and the Pirates and Reds claiming each wild card spot. It’s a race shaping up to be one of the rare ones that could see three teams finish within three games of each other, like the AL West in 2004.
But back to the Pirates—last season’s team played well above its means when it came to advanced statistics. And when the Pirates regressed to what their Pythagorean Win-Loss Percentage predicted they would fall to, the regression felt like a fall from the Earth’s exosphere for Pirate fans.
Despite playing baseball over .500 last season, the Pirates finished with the aforementioned 79-83 record—a record one game better than the Pythagorean prediction of 78-83.
The difference in this season? The Pirates are not playing outstandingly out of their means as the numbers told us the Buccos did last season.
Entering this afternoon’s game against Detroit, the Pirates record stood at 33-20. Only three games over the Pythagorean prediction of 30-23.
In addition, last season’s success depended on a white-hot pitching staff combined with a terrible offense in the first two months of the season and then a red-hot offense paired with an average pitching staff in the middle two months of the season. When the two units regressed to their average level of play, bad things happened.
This year, the 2013 Pirates style of play appears exponentially more sustainable. While the pitching is one of the league’s top staffs, the offense has started better than it has in recent memory while also getting the job done without the best efforts of Andrew McCutchen who didn’t heat up until mid-May.
By the way, the 34 wins in the first two months of the season shattered the club record for wins in the season’s first two months. Pittsburgh had its best April in quite awhile with a 15-12 record, and stands at 19-8 in May after tonight’s victory.
Back to the pitching, the bullpen owns the league’s best earned run average at 2.72 while the staff’s overall ERA of 3.19 ranks second in the league behind—you guessed it—St. Louis. Plus, the Pirates are 30-0 when leading after eight innings—in large part to Jason Grilli’s major league-best 22 saves in 22 chances.
But hey…it’s been two months. There’s four months to play, and 108 more games. But the Pirates seem to expect to be in this situation, regardless of whether they’re taking the field against Houston or Cincinnati.
And if there’s any reason to believe in this Pirates team, it’s not going to be in the numbers but in the Pirates themselves.
Manager Clint Hurdle’s created what Brewers manager Ron Roenicke called a “winning atmosphere” in the Pirates’ clubhouse, and it’s an atmosphere that appears to be paying major dividends with confidence in the Bucs’ locker room never having been higher—look no further than the actual shark tank in the clubhouse.
Hurdle’s said himself many times, and I paraphrase here, that the game doesn’t know when it’s important and that the Pirates must take care of business in certain situations regardless of the situation and any existing pressure. Winning 1-0 against the Tigers twice in three days may very well be a quality indicator of the Pirates’ success in that mental aspect of the game.
In fact, Hurdle and his clubhouse have a mindset that exudes an expectation to be one of the league’s best teams. And as of now, Hurdle’s pre-season 95-win prediction isn’t looking too bad.
“You have a mindset to go out and win the game you’re playing that day. That’s what we’ve tried to create here and I think we’ve worked to put a roster together that has more talent and has more depth than the clubs we’ve had in the past. We’ve built into this,” Hurdle said.
“I think [the Tigers series] is tangible evidence that we all can use from time to time that we just went out and we played a team that went to the World Series last year, we matched up well, we competed well, and we were able to win a series here in the end of May. We’ve got a lot of season in front of us but these are the markers along the way you like to knock down and take care of.”