The Pittsburgh Pirates will storm into the all-star break holding the second best record in the National League at 53 – 35. They currently sit at second place in the National League Central trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by only 2.5 games and hold a commanding lead in the wild card race where they are 5.5 games ahead of the pack.
Their season started off a little shaky, after being swept by the Cincinnati Reds in their opening series. Since May 22, however, the Pirates have been practically unstoppable, winning 33 of their last 46 games, including a dramatic series win over the Cardinals to cap off the first half.
The key to the Pirates’ success can be largely credited to their all-around brilliant pitching staff, whose 2.86 ERA is second in the majors. Francisco Liriano, with an ERA of 2.98 and 125 strikeout, is putting together another fantastic season for the Pirates and is arguably the best #3 man in any pitching rotation in the majors.
Veteran A.J. Burnett is having the best season of his career with a NL second best 2.11 ERA. Burnett was also selected onto his much deserved first all-star team after 16 years in the majors. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up this pace going into October.
Graphic via cbssports
Other all-stars include Gerrit Cole who is having a breakthrough year with an ERA of 2.30 and leads all of the MLB with 13 wins. Closer Mark Melancon, who has been lights-out with an ERA of 1.47 and leading the majors with 29 saves, also made his first all-star appearance. Andrew McCutchen, who blasted his first home run in an all-star game in Cincinnati is putting together another solid year.
The Pirates offence has shown some success and has been good enough as they currently sits at 7th place in the National League in runs scored. Leftfielder Starling Marte has developed into a force at the plate, already matching his previous record of 13 home runs. Second baseman Neil Walker is putting together another solid season, batting .278 with 41 runs. Other players, like first baseman Pedro Alvarez will look to turn their season around, after a disappointing first half.
The one thing that the Pirates’ lineup is missing is a powerful bat. They are currently at 27th place in the majors in home runs. Corey Hart, who has missed a majority of the season with a shoulder injury is currently on the 15 day DL but should be returning later in the season to help fill in this gap. In the meantime, with the July 31st trade deadline fast approaching, you can bet that the Pirates will be looking for someone who can provide some power. The Reds’ outfielder Jay Bruce and Rockies’ outfielder Carlos Gonzalez are two potential prospects who can fill that role.
The National League Central will be one of the most competitive and exciting divisions to watch as the second half of the season approaches. It will be critical for the Pirates’ to continue with the momentum they had coming into the all-star break. Their stamina during a nine day road trip starting September 1 where they will face NL Central rivals, Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds. They will face the Cardinals at home for the last time for 3 games beginning September 28 in a series that will likely determine who takes the NL Central.
Graphic via www.rantsports.com