Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June 1st and the Pirates are still interesting

As I type this, the Pirates are on the verge of winning against the Mets and will go to 26-28 on the year. As this is the 54th game, they are now exactly 1/3 of the way through the season.

Using the DBS Project-o-meter, my highly advanced math skills tell me that the Pirates are on pace to go 78-84 on the year. That would be a 21 game improvement on last year's Exxon Valdez-esque season of 57-105. Even more interesting is that tonight's road win at Citi Field would be the 17th of the season. While that by itself is not news worthy, it is when the 2010 Pirates went 17-64 on the road last year. Do you know how hard that is to suck that bad at something like the Pirates did on the road?

That abysmal road record says to me that there was no leadership in the clubhouse to get young players ready to play while outside their comfort zone. The robotic Russeltron 3000 and his coaches must have had no ability to stave off losing streaks on the road.

At the end of May last year the Pirates were 21-31, so the Pirates have improved by 4 games from last year's record. But that doesn't tell the whole story, as the 2010 Pirates had an eye-popping run differential of -127. By comparison the 2011 Pirates (if the score holds at 9-3 tonight) will have a -1 run differential. That's a 126 run improvement in one year. That tells you how atrocious the Pirates were last year and how much better they have played this year.

The starting pitching is the reason. After tonight's game, Pirate starters will have allowed 2 earned runs or less in 13 straight games, which is the longest stretch since 1968!. Kevin Correia has been one of the best free agent signings of the past offseason. For the affordable price of $4M/year, he has already given the Pirates 8 wins, 7 of which are on the road. Again, to compare to last year...Paul Maholm lead the 2010 Pirates with 9 wins all...year.

The starting pitching will regress, of course, but the Pirates are also doing this well with a less than vibrant offense. All of the Core Four (McCutchen, Walker, Tabata, and Alvarez) have slumped through long stretches at times this season. Alvarez has been a huge disappointment with the bat this year and is currently injured with a sore quad.

If the Pirates get through the soul-crushing experience known as Interleague Play (they were 2-15 last year) at the end of June, it may be time to re-adjust expectations for this team. In 1997 (the terribly named "Freak Show" team), the Pirates were rewarded for their efforts by getting Shawnon Dunston in a late season trade to help push them to the NL Central title. It would be nice for the players (and the fans) to have their hard work rewarded in 2011 with a similar trade if they are flirting with .500. The Pirates don't have to trade a top prospect to get some help here -- there will be plenty of teams looking to dump a bad contract for a low-level player in order to save a few million.

But we have many miles to travel in order to dream about that. Or 1 month. Whichever comes first.

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