For 20 straight years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a losing season. For a score of years, the Bucs have gone through what has seemed like an eternal rebuilding process. For two decades, Pittsburgh has gone through failed prospects like Bryan Bullington and Zach Duke. But the best team is baseball currently is none other than the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates. Yes, those Pittsburgh Pirates. The same Pirates who've endured twenty years of losing and mediocrity. They're not only on pace to break that trend this year, but they also appear to make their first postseason appearance since 1992 barring a complete collapse. So what has been the cause of the Pirates' good fortune and will Pittsburgh raise the World Series Champion flag in place of the Jolly Roger at the end of the postseason?
It's a travesty that the Pirates' home park, PNC Park, hasn't hosted a single postseason game. It's often lauded and revered as being one of the nicest and most well-kept ballparks in the MLB. But this year will most likely be different with the current Pirates team thanks to the leadership of manager Clint Hurdle. His managerial record with the Pirates is 221-217 in three years, but he did finish 6th for the 2011 Manager of the Year award. In the past three years, Pittsburgh has managed to start off hot, often being in the playoff race by midseason. However, they've faded the previous two seasons below .500. However, it appears that the third time will be the charm thanks to outstanding pitching that will hold up come October.
The Bucs lead the majors in team ERA (3.07) and opponents' batting average (.229). Jeff Locke (9-3, 2.47 ERA), Francisco Liriano (12-4, 106 SO, 2.02 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), and A.J. Burnett (2.73 ERA, 141 SO, 1.20 WHIP, .223 Opp. BA) have all been phenomenal starters for the Pirates, making for what is the best starting pitcher ERA in baseball (3.22). Here's an interesting statistic to accompany those numbers: Pittsburgh is 22nd in quality starts with 56. How is this the case? Look no further than the bullpen, which has been anchored by closer Jason Grilli, who has an ERA of 2.34, 30 saves, and 66 SO in 42.1 IP. The former Tiger might be currently out with a forearm injury, but he has been crucial for the Bucs' bullpen and should be returning soon. Other great arms in the pen for Pittsburgh have been Mark Melancon (26 holds, 0.83 ERA, 0.79 WHIP), Justin Wilson (10 holds, 2.14 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), and Tony Watson (15 holds, 3.21 ERA, 0.96 WHIP).
It's strange how I've gone this far into the post just to mention how great Andrew McCutchen has been for the Bucs, which is a testament to how much better this Pittsburgh team is than years past. McCutchen is batting .313 with 16 HR, 65 RBI, and 24 stolen bases this season. He also has an OPS of .898, has only struck out 70 times this year, and has an offensive WAR of 5.3. Other productive members of the Pirates' lineup have been Starling Marte (10 HR, 30 RBI, 33 SB, 9 triples), Pedro Alvarez (27 HR, 74 RBI), and Russell Martin (10 HR, 42 RBI).
It'll be fun watching this young Bucs' team compete in October. There's something to be said about how good pitching will win you titles and that could certainly be the case for Pittsburgh. Raise the Jolly Roger!!!