Don’t look now, but the chase for the NL Central crown just became a lot tighter.
By: Oscar Rzodkiewicz
On May 12, 2017, the Pittsburgh Pirates dropped their sixth straight contest en route to a division-worst record of 14-22, falling six games back of the then-first place St. Louis Cardinals. The young Tyler Glasnow unceremoniously allowed seven ER in 2.1 innings pitched against the Diamondbacks as Pittsburgh’s magical 98-win season in 2015 felt like a decade ago. With Starling Marte sidelined due to suspension, the Pirates sat a mere game and a half out of dead last in the NL.
Suddenly, the Bucs have won 11 of their last 13 contests including a four-game series sweep of the Brewers, chopping Milwaukee’s division lead in the NL Central down to three games. At 48-48, the Pirates have given themselves an opportunity to erase a pedestrian 78-win 2016 campaign from memory and reroute back to the excitement and grandeur of “Buctober”.
After Thursday’s 4-2 win at PNC Park, Andrew McCutchen asserted, “when you’ve got guys showing up and stars showing up like they did this homestand, good things are going to happen. When we play our best baseball, we can compete with anybody.”
A proclamation of return would be premature for Pittsburgh, though, as the Bucs still need to catch up to the Chicago Cubs as well as the Brewers. Since dropping two of three to the Pirates, the Cubs have won six straight in two series sweeps and acquired former White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana, who blanked the Orioles with 12 strikeouts in seven inning’s time in his first outing with the team.
However, if the Pirates continue on this path of recent success, Clint Hurdle’s crew could find themselves back in the playoffs come October. In the last two weeks, the Bucs’ batting average has been a clean .277 compared to their season total of .245, and the team ERA clocks in at 3.0 next to the 4.1 line for the year.
The Pirates now begin a nine-game road trip starting in Colorado against the 56-41 Rockies. Pittsburgh faces Milwaukee again in a two-game stint on August 15th and 16th. If they are able to keep pace, the Pirates will have a chance to catapult into playoff position as they’ll face division opponents in 31 consecutive contests from the end of August into September. With a chance to resurrect a season that looked dead to rights, the Pirates’ rejuvenation should leave fans on the edge of their seat as the summer winds down and the playoff chase revs up.
By: Oscar Rzodkiewicz