July 5, 2012
On the Beat
Raising the Jolly Roger
The Pirates have been down this road before. In fact, it was just a year ago. The Pirates were one of the best stories in baseball approaching the All-Star break in 2011. They were in contention in the National League Central and even sported a winning record, something they have not achieved since 1992.
The Pirates are again contending in the early days of July and once again threatening to finally end a streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons, the longest such skid in the history of major North American professional sports. In fact, the Pirates took over sole possession of first place on Wednesday when they raised their record to 45-36 and moved to nine games over .500, their highest point above breakeven since the final day of the 1992 regular season.
Last year, the Pirates led the division on July 25 before completely collapsing. They lost 12 of their 13 games to fall to 10 games back on August 7. No team in major-league history had gone from first place to a double-digit deficit in a shorter period of time. The Pirates went on to finish 72-90.
Thus, it is easy to be skeptical about the Pirates' chances of reaching the postseason this year, or even breaking .500. Manager Clint Hurdle thinks it is a fair question and doesn't hide from it.
"Honestly, who knows what's going to happen at this point of the season?" Hurdle said. "We've still got half the season left. What I do know is we have a group of men who are working very hard and playing well. I believe they learned from last season. Our motto since the first day of spring training has been "finish"—finish each at-bat, finish each pitch, just finish everything we do."
The Pirates seemingly have the pitching and defense to finish off a run to the playoffs, as they are fourth in the major leagues in runs allowed at 3.75 a game. The starting rotation includes four pitchers with FIPs under 4.00—Jeff Karstens (2.95), James McDonald (3.21), A.J. Burnett (3.60) and Erik Bedard (3.89). The offense, though it has perked up in the last month, is a different story; the Pirates are 23rd among the 30 major-league clubs in scoring with a 3.95 runs a game average. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is spearheading the attack with a .356 TAv.