Written by Patrick Williams
I’ve spent the last month or so down in the Tampa, Florida area and it seems as though anytime I meet someone new down here that the first thing they ask me when they hear I am from Pittsburgh is “Are those Pirates for real this year?” It is a far cry and a bit more refreshing than the usual “So, are you a Steeler fan then?”
My answer varies depending on the type of person I am talking to and has ranged from “They appear to be” to the “I hope so, but I honestly don’t know.” And the truth is I don’t think anyone knows at this point. Two years in a row of being over .500 and near the top of, if not at the very top of, the division in July has to mean something for a team that last made a post season appearance in 1992, as we all are very familiar with by now. However, after last year’s meltdown there isn’t a logical person out there that would believe that a repeat collapse isn’t possible.
For what seems like most of the last decade the Pirates seemed to have the same results every season, and I don’t mean just the losing record. Every year it felt as though the team would have about three standout players that come out of nowhere, about three players that should produce that drop off the face of the earth, and three players do consistently as they have done in every other year, which usually was very below average. The most frustrating part of that all was that the fans and front office could never figure out which three were going to do what. And quite often it was the ones that overachieved the year prior that fell off the face of the earth the next.
This year, however, seems to be bucking the trends somewhat. While they still have players that are filling those predetermined roles it seems as though the highs are outweighing the lows. And each game over .500 they increase it becomes less likely that a complete collapse could occur again. Will it be enough to make the post season? Too early to tell at this point, honestly. The Reds don’t appear to be coming back down to earth anytime soon and the Cardinals are still a team to reckon with. Both of those teams have known what it is like to win in recent years, especially in St. Louis. And both have the payroll and rosters to make much needed additions for a post season push.
Still, the Pirates aren’t appearing to go away just yet. Clint Hurdle and veteran pitcher A. J. Burnett have instilled new life and a positive attitude, seemingly erasing the bad taste those 20 years of losing can put in a clubhouse. Do they play great baseball? No. At times the team is downright painful to watch; making routine plays look pitiful in the field and leaving you to wonder if on any given night the team will strikeout 20 times or get no hit. Yet, they keep finding themselves in the hunt to win most games and that is all you can ask for, right?
The Pirates are built around pitching and a superstar centerfielder having a career year in a time when all of baseball cannot seem to hit any more. Whether it is the effect from the post steroid era or just the pendulum swinging back in the direction of pitching dominating the game, teams struggle to hit for power and average right now. The Pittsburgh Pirates are built just for that kind of game this year. It is not necessarily a knock on them either; they were built on a foundation of pitching prospects. That means that someone in the organization saw where the league was going and laid out a blueprint to succeed, give the management some credit, for once.
I do know one thing, I can’t stop watching. And after all this time I can’t say that they are out of this race this year. This team feels different. Sure, we said that last year, but that was new territory for the club. Now we will all be waiting to see what the coming week brings in terms of shake-ups around the league with the trade deadline and if the Pirates can make a move, but even if they roll with what they have it should be an interesting home stretch. And the next time someone asks me if the Pirates are for real this year I will still say that I am not sure, but the picture gets a little less foggy with each game over .500 they climb. It also helps that I don’t see any road trips to Atlanta on the schedule in the near future.