(Baseball StL) -- Forget about that idea that the “Pirates are the Pirates” and it’s just a matter of time before they self destruct. Sure, the Pirates have put together a major-league-record 20 consecutive losing seasons, but this is not the same Pittsburgh team that’s finished below .500 for two straight decades.
They currently own the best record in the major leagues at 51-30. They have the best team pitching in the National League with a combined team ERA of 3.11. Their starters have 12 shutouts, that’s more than any other team in the majors. Their pitchers have held opponents to a batting average of .225. Again, best in the majors. Teams with the best pitching are the teams that reach the playoffs, and right now no team in baseball has pitching that has been as effective as the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So who are these guys? Jeff Locke has come out of nowhere to post a 7-1 record while riding a 2.06 ERA. Francisco Liriano is healthy again. He’s 7-3, 2.23. Gerrit Cole, a former number one overall draft pick, came up from the minors and promptly won his first four games. Two of those were against former Cy Young award winners. Justin Wilson is 5-1, 2.18. Not exactly household names, but they’ve all very impressive.
The Pirates bullpen has also been rock solid. Jason Grilli became the closer this year and has been dominant. Grilli has 27 saves already, with a 1.72 era. Mark Melancon has re-discovered his form and is putting together an All-Star caliber season with 23 holds and an era of 0.89. The Pirates don’t blow many leads.
Offensively the Pirates have a perennial all star in Andrew McCutchen. They’ve got a rookie of the year candidate in left fielder Starling Marte. Pedro Alvarez is finally starting to live up to his potential, with 20 home runs and 53 RBI’s.
Rookie Jordy Mercer has taken over the shortstop job since being called up from AAA and performed well, hitting .284 with four home runs in a month and a half.
The Pirates are young and hungry with several players who appear ready to blossom into big stars. Manager Clint Hurdle is highly respected. The fans have returned to PNC Park in Pittsburgh in a big way. Pittsburgh will always be a football town first, no doubt about that, but the 2013 Pirates have given that city an exciting team they can get behind. The Cardinals should be concerned. The Pirates look considerably stronger than Cincinnati right now, and represent the greatest threat to the Cardinals quest for winning the National League Central. Don’t count on them being the “same old Pirates”.