Are the Pirates a true threat in the NL Central? -

Are the Pirates a true threat in the NL Central?

(BaseballStL) --We're coming up on two full decades since the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates were even close to being relevant.  And by relevant I mean having a winning record. 
But in 2011 the Pirates put everyone on notice.  The old days were over.  They were in solid contention to win the division well into July.  Even though the Pirates ended up falling off and finishing below .500 once showed they were on the right track.
Well, here we are in a similar situation in 2012.  The Pirates have taken the series against the Redbirds at Busch Stadium, going for the sweep Sunday, and are once again in striking distance in the NL Central.
They've got a pitching staff owning the 5th best ERA in all of baseball and an offense that's gotten hot of late.  That offense is led by a legitimate superstar in outfielder Andrew McCutchen.  Anyone who watched him these last couple games knows just how special he is and how impactful he is on the field from his offense to his defense.
It's quite clear, at some point soon, the Pirates are going to break through and make the playoffs.  The question it this year?  Can they actually do it in 2012?
It's one thing to beat a team a few times in late June when there's still plenty of season left.  It's quite another to beat them in September when there's only a handful of games remaining.  That's a playoff atmosphere.  It's quite different than this.
The difference though for the Pirates this season is they're a year older.  They have experienced what it's like to hang around for a while and then fall off.  They also have a veteran arm like AJ Burnett who's pitched in some pretty big situations. 
I compare this Pittsburgh team to the Reds of a few years ago.  We all knew with guys like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce they'd break through at some point.  The only question was when.  With Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata it's only a matter of when for the Pirates.
Cincinnati did it in 2010 when few expected them to do so.  Don't be surprised if the Pirates make a tough run for it in 2012.

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