Williams: These Pirates Aren’t Fading Away

Colin Holderman has one blown lead all season.

That bad inning on Tuesday night is the only thing keeping the Pirates from ten straight wins and three straight sweeps.

Holderman has definitely earned a bad outing, for all of the good he’s done this season to get the Pirates off to a 18-8 start. Prior to his first blown lead, he was 8-for-8 in holds, and only allowed runs in one of those appearances.

Let’s talk about that Pirates start.

Today’s win over the Dodgers was a microcosm of what we’ve seen from the Pirates all season. I’ll let Connor Joe’s post-game comments describe that.

“We’re resilient,” Joe said to Robby Incmikoski.

Resiliency is what keeps you watching this team, even if they’re down.

Mitch Keller gave up two runs in the first inning — the damage coming on a two out single. He followed with five shutout innings, allowing three hits, no walks, and he struck out eight more Dodgers hitters.

The Pirates offense struck right back, something we’ve seen so many times this year.

In the first inning, the Pirates scored three runs off small ball. They had four singles in the entire inning, but took five extra bases to lead to the runs. Tucupita Marcano led off with two extra bases after a throwing error by Austin Barnes. Bryan Reynolds and Andrew McCutchen moved into scoring position in a double steal, allowing them both to score the tying and go-ahead runs behind Marcano.

Anthony Murphy wrote recently about the impact that speed has played on the early success from this team. After today’s game, they lead the majors with 37 stolen bases.

In the sixth inning, the Pirates added some insurance runs, while showing that they can play big ball, too. Joe hit his third home run of the year with McCutchen on first. Rodolfo Castro followed immediately with his third homer of the year. The Pirates were up 6-2, heading to their bullpen.

The Pirates offense can strike in any way, at any time.

One of the worst offenses in the game last year, the Pirates now rank 6th in wOBA (.338) and 9th in wRC+ (110). Their success has come from all over — guys who spent most of the 2022 season losing in Pittsburgh, free agent and trade additions who have worked out, and new arrivals to the majors in 2023.

The additions of McCutchen and Carlos Santana have been huge, as was the trade for Joe. McCutchen has an .877 OPS, Santana has a .753 OPS, and Joe is at .972.

There have been five starters used this year, and only Rich Hill has an ERA above 4.00. That’s mostly due to bad outings in his first two starts of the year. Vince Velasquez had a similar story, with better starts after his first outing. The younger starters — Keller, Johan Oviedo, and Roansy Contreras — are all showing promise.

The bullpen ranks first in the majors in Win Probability Added, and third in WAR. Things are going so well there that the Pirates are beating the Dodgers with Jose Hernandez, a left-hander they took from the Dodgers’ Double-A team in the Rule 5 draft. The bullpen success gets a big assist from Holderman in the eighth, setting up David Bednar in the ninth.

You could find ways to doubt any of the particular success the Pirates have seen across the board, and chalk it up to a really good month. If you actually watch this team, the attitude matches the performance. This is a team that is looking, acting, and performing like a winner.

This team will not fade.

This will be a fun season.

Photo of the Bucco Jacket above by David Hague.


**The Pirates have extended their best infielder. They’ve extended their best outfielder. It’s time for them to extend their best starting pitcher, Mitch Keller. After today, Keller has a 3.53 ERA in 35.2 innings. That comes with a 10.1 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9, which are the best marks of his career. He’s been on a steady progression with his game since last season, and we’re now seeing him emerge as an impactful starter in his age-27 season. Keller will be a free agent after the 2025 season, and is arbitration eligible for two more years after this. With a window starting to form into 2030, it would be smart for the Pirates to keep Keller for more of those projected contending years.

**How about the play from Rodolfo Castro? Not only his performance at the plate, but his performance on the field at shortstop. Castro has an .854 OPS at the plate this season, and he’s flashed a few solid defensive plays. His metrics on defense have been poor in a small sample. He’s always graded better as a second baseman who can play shortstop in a pinch. I think this extended stretch with Cruz out will give a really good indication of his skills.

**If you bet the Vegas Over 68.5 wins, the Pirates need to win at a .375 rate or better the rest of the way in order for you to win your bet. They were better than that mark in each of the last two seasons. An early congratulations on your winnings. If you’re not a bettor, and just looking for the path to a winning season, the Pirates need to play .471 ball to get to 82 wins. If they play .500 ball the rest of the way, they get to 86 wins, which would have been one shy of the playoffs last year. Where do you think they end up, after seeing this hot start?


Anthony Murphy wrote about Miguel Andujar’s recent hitting in Indianapolis. Andujar looks like the best immediate depth option the Pirates have in the minors.

Pirates Prospects Daily: Miguel Andujar Continues Late Month Tear

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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FG updated projections of the final record to be 81.6 Wins & 80.4 Loses

Pirates Playoff odds at 28.6%, still behind the Cards (41.5%) & Brewers (63.9%), slightly above the Cubs (28.3%).

14.9% to win the division


Seems fair, We have seen fast starts before, and being a few games over .500 as late as August before the lack of depth and injuries caught up with them. Remember 2011? 2012? If you were to ask me to change my win prediciton (74) and bet it, I would need pretty good odds. Hopefully they can stay 10 or more games above the break even mark before the Dog Days set in! For now? I am loving it.


Thrilled for Rodolfo Castro – he did well last year when called up, and has done very well so far this year holding down the SS position and being a steady contributor with the bat in the bottom of the order.

Started getting interested in Cruz and Castro in 2018 when they were the MI at A in WV. Cruz played 102 games at SS and Castro 89 games at 2B. They were unique prospects. By 2021 at Altoona, Cruz was still the SS and getting better, Castro played some 2B (24 games), but most of the play at 2B went to Ji-Hwan Bae (65 games), and Castro also played 44 games at 3B.

These 3 kids came up together, know each other very well and have become solid MLB players. Castro and Cruz will reach their first year of MLB Service in May. Bae only had 13 days of MLB Service prior to 2023, so he will have to play almost the whole season before reaching his 1st year. Castro at 2B, SS, 3B and Bae at 2B, CF, SS fill in a lot of blanks for this ballclub.

Last edited 1 month ago by ravidesai1984

I got Vegas at 66.5. Money in the bank man.


So what does a potential Keller extension look like? Based on Reynolds averaging $13.5M per year, I think that 5 years in the $55M-$60M range is fair.


The team has him for 2 more years of control after this one. I was thinking 6 year $63m (based on $15 for the 2 years of control plus 4 years $48m). Your estimate might be more realistic though.


I assumed that they wouldn’t pay anyone more than Reynolds but each case is different.


It truly has been glorious so far.


This is a good baseball team. Period. Not a great team. Not a team that’s doing it with smoke and mirrors, either. Just a good ole fashioned good baseball team.

Is it good enough to win the NL Central? Definitely a possibility. Likely dependant on two things, how well they play vs Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals, and how big a factor injuries play into the season.


The fanduel odds to win the division are currently Brewers +125, Cardinals +320, Cubs +400, Pirates +700, Reds +8000….. meaning 7 to 1 for the Pirates and 80 to 1 for the Reds.


Just put down $100 @ +850. I think that’s worth the risk. I had faith they would be much improved and I think at this point I’m sold. We are leaving SSS territory.


The team is better no doubt about that and more quality depth at the major league level, but the team lacks adequate replacements if there are injuries to the starting staff…Ortiz and then what??


How about Sean Sullivan? Has yet to give up a run for Altoona and is an older college draftee. Could be a realistic rotation fill in if he can keep his hot start to the season going.


The Pirates were in pretty good shape before the Brubaker and Burrows injuries. I think Osvaldo Bido might be called up before Luis Ortiz, then maybe Caleb Smith. If the Pirates are still in it at the trade deadline, the Pirates have the resources to get a front line starter.


Would that be the Caleb Smith in AAA who has pitched 16 innings and given up 18 earned runs, 10.13 ERA? We need another LHRP, but in AAA, Daniel Zamora has a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 IP, Angel Perdomo has a 4.82 ERA in 9.1 IP, and Cam Alldred 6.00 ERA in 12 IP.

The Pirates signed 4 or 5 minor league LHRP FA’s for AAA – Smith, Perdomo, and Zamora are 3 of them, but for my money, I would be looking at Nick Dombkowski and Tyler Samaniego at AA. They both pitched very well for the Curve in 2022, but were held back to give the LHRP FA’s mentioned above first shot at AAA.


Not that Caleb Smith, I am talking about the Caleb Smith that pithed 70 innings in the majors last year and gave up only 57 hits. (I won’t mention the 14 homers) 🙂

Seriously, Smith is not getting called up in the next few weeks after his bad start. However, if he strings together a few good starts in a row we both know the possibility is out there he might get a spot start if needed. That’s probably exactly why they signed him. Dombkowski and Samaneigo have both been doing well in relief.


Matt Eckelman!!! Seriously, besides Ortiz no one ready at the moment. Priester could be a viable option mid season if he develops like he did as he rose up the ladder. This time next year there will start to be some of the young guns getting closer. Right now they will not fade unless there are several injuries. Much better roster build this year at the Major league level than we have seen in several years.


With over 80% of the season left to go, I am no yet hopping on the ‘we’re not fading away’ bandwagon. They ARE playing way better than I thought they would, but I am still not totally sold. But I AM enjoying the games a WHOLE lot so far. Will I be enjoying them in August? I sure hope so, but I have seen them collapse too many times to get my hopes up too high at this point.

One game at a time!


No reason at this point to get hopes up for any team, just enjoy the ride…August will tell the tale for any or all…


And, as I said, I am. 😁😁😁


I would like them to add another lefty in the pen and another starting pitcher for depth, nothing to blow the farm on yet but someone like the lefty dfa’d by Cleveland for example.


Someone above us will claim him.


Yeah you’re right, might be able to work out a trade though.


The only point to be made on the Pirates start is they’ve feasted on subpar teams. As of this moment their combined opponents are 74-104, and even if you subtract the Pirates 18-8 record against them you’re left with 66-86, which is a .434 win percentage. Now, they’ve gone 6-3 against the 3 best teams they’ve played – Houston (14-11), Boston and LA (each 13-13) – so it’s not like they’ve only beaten up on the bottom of the league, but it’s going to get tougher than it has been so far. Everybody plays everybody now.

Before the season I would have put them in the 72-75 win range, and now I think they’re more likely 78-81 wins. The reasons I’m not more optimistic are

  1. Competition (see above)
  2. Depth, especially on the mound, is already really thin, and
  3. I can’t see this team spending the prospect capital to add at the trade deadline, so I think they’re going to lose ground over the last 2 months to the teams that push their chips in.

But the wins are banked, the attitude is amazing, and it’s going to be a lot more fun following this team than it’s been in years.


Good teams should feast on subpar opponents. They have the best record in the league and it’s backed with a +35 run differential. It’s certainly not a fluke. They lost arguably their best player and they rallied around that. I don’t know if it’ll continue but right now, it’s very real. The front 3 in the rotation is as good as anyone. As far as depth, they do have Ortiz, but not a lot behind him. I’m guessing if they’re still doing this at the deadline, they’ll absolutely add.


I agree, it’s not a fluke. It’s just they’ve played exactly one team over .500 so far. The schedule’s going to get tougher starting the fist week in May. That month they’ve got 18 games against Tampa, Toronto, Baltimore, Texas, Arizona and Seattle, all teams with a positive run differential (well, Arizona is almost there at -2). That’ll be a much better indication of how they stack up against the top half of the league.


“It’s just they’ve played exactly one team over .500 “

I really don’t get this line…

Do you really think STL, LAD & Boston finish below .500?

Maybe Boston.


I don’t either. It’s way too early to get focused on opponents and their quality. A combined 8-5 against LAD, Hou, St Lou, Boston. And Boston is the only maybe candidate to finish under .500 and a big part of that is them being in the toughest division in baseball.

Good teams thrash the bad ones, playing tough teams to a draw, and that’s what the Bucs are doing. Now that’s not a good thing?


The Nationals are coming up next. Did you see that terrible lineup the Dodgers sent out? Shades of the 2020-22 Buccos.

Still pi$$ed we didn’t sweep!


Nationals, not a walkover…will be a good test for Buccos


Nationals are 9-14.


Beat up on Mets this week.


Good! Get it out their systems!🤣🤣


Dodgers still had Betts, Freeman, above average rookie Outman and others. Thankfully Muncy wasn’t playing. The pirates don’t have any talent in 20-22 comparable to the dodgers too guys.


My comment was aimed more at the 6 batters hitting below .200. And, I stand by my point that because of it, it was a terrible lineup overall.


Very early in season lol.


We are VERY thin at SP right now due to injuries. JTB and Brubaker injuries are tough. Need to get Choi back as our LH hitting is lacking power


Are JTB and Brubaker the same person? Asking for a friend.


Ugh. Jtb and Burrows


Been there! Just ask John D. 😁

Bryan Hall

Castro filling in for Cruz is the most underappreciated story of the season. He’s not a good fielder there but he is making up for it offensively. That injury could’ve deflated this team.


I almost put a bet for over 68.5 wins. Should have done it!


I throw a few bills on the over every season no matter what the over/under is. In years past, it was something to keep my interest going in August/Sept to see if I win. Hopefully that anxiousness is long gone by then this year.


I think there are a lot of people that bet the over on their favorite team, but not the under. That got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be more profitable to find teams that are overrated by their fans and bet the under? Just my quirky way of thinking.


me too, but it was 67.5 when I looked.

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