The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now. They’ve gone from being just another team in the mix of mediocre Wild Card contenders, to a team that is surging to the front of the pack and sitting in the driver’s seat for home field in the Wild Card game. After starting the month with a four game losing streak, they have gone 14-3, including taking two of three against one of their top contenders for the Wild Card, the Milwaukee Brewers. Sure, the rest of it has been an easy schedule against the likes of the Cubs, Phillies, Cubs again, and Red Sox. But a 14-3 run is special, no matter who you’re playing.
It’s not just winning, though. This almost feels like destiny. How else can it feel when Mark Melancon puts runners at first and third with no outs and a one run lead, then gets out of the jam after the runner at third base is hit with a chopper down the line, ruling him out before he can get back to the bag?
Or what about three days later in another 1-0 game, when Tony Watson makes a bad throw to first base, allowing Rickie Weeks to reach safely, but leading Carlos Gomez to stray off the bag and commit one of the biggest TOOTBLANs of the year. Rather than having runners at first and second with no outs, or even a runner at second with one out if Watson makes the play, they had a runner at first with one out. In a one run game.
Then there’s the fact that the Pirates have the most productive trio of players in the National League in Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin, and Josh Harrison — or as I call them, the MV3. All three have stepped up during this stretch to provide big hits.
It seems that everyone is taking notice. Today there were two links about the Pirates and the special run that they’re making. The first link comes from Richard Justice at Sports on Earth. Justice gives a recap of how the Pirates got here, from the hiring of Neal Huntington, to the hiring of Clint Hurdle, to the Andrew McCutchen extension, and most importantly, finding a group of players who didn’t accept losing and believed the Pirates could be champions. It’s a good summary of how they got here, while also recognizing how good they’ve been all around lately.
Then there’s Mike Petriello at FanGraphs, who notes that the Pirates’ pitching has turned around. He points out how the Pirates started the year with a horrible pitching staff, but have turned things around, despite the fact that they didn’t really make a big addition to the pitching. A big factor has been the switch from Pedro Alvarez to Josh Harrison, and an increase in ground balls in the second half. As Petriello puts it: “More grounders, less Alvarez, more outs.”
The Pirates didn’t make any big additions to the pitching staff, but they did add John Holdzkom and John Axford. Holdzkom was signed out of indy ball this summer, and Axford was a straight up waiver claim. Neither pitcher was expected to boost the bullpen, but that’s exactly what they’ve done.
The rotation has also improved. Vance Worley was added to the rotation since their early season struggles. Francisco Liriano has looked like an ace in the second half. Gerrit Cole is pitching well. Petriello notes that the Pirates have the fifth best strikeout percentage in baseball over the last month, with the highest groundball rate in the same span.
The Pirates already had a great offense this year, thanks to the MV3. The pitching staff is coming around now, and this looks like one of the most complete teams in baseball at the moment. Add in the magic they’ve been receiving, and this team looks special. With the playoffs coming up, I can’t think of a better time for everything to come together.