The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have the easiest schedule in the month of April. Their opponents included the 17-9 Colorado Rockies (twice), the 18-9 Florida Marlins, and the 16-13 St. Louis Cardinals. Combined, their opponents put up a 117-105 record, as of tonight. Despite this, the Pirates managed a 13-15 record, heading in to tonight’s series opener with the San Diego Padres.
The impressive part was that the Pirates held their own against the winning teams. The Cardinals, Rockies, and Marlins have combined to win 62.2% of their games this season. They won 61.5% of their games against the Pirates, which basically puts the Pirates on par with the rest of their opponents. The big area of success came against the two .500 teams, the Reds and the Nationals, both 14-14. The Pirates managed a 5-2 record against these two teams.
However, the Pirates didn’t fare well against the losing teams. The Cubs, Brewers, and Giants have combined for a 38-46 record this season, winning 45.2% of their games. Against the Pirates, these teams won 62.5% of their games, and most of that came from the Brewers (2-0 vs the Pirates) and Giants (2-1 vs the Pirates). That’s an area they need to improve upon, especially in the month of May.
Over the next month, the Pirates don’t play a single team that currently sports a winning record. Four teams (Dodgers, Nationals, Reds, Braves) are currently sitting at .500. The Pirates also have a few teams who are really struggling, including the Padres, who fell to 11-18 after tonight’s game. Also struggling are the Astros (11-17), Tigers (12-17), Cubs (12-16), and Mets (12-16). Those teams make up 15 of the 28 games from now until June 2nd.
The May opponents are currently combining for a 129-157 record, for a 45.1% winning percentage. If the Pirates play at the opposite pace (54.9% winning percentage) over the next month, they will be sitting at 29-28 on June 3rd. The last time the Pirates were at .500 that late in the season was in 2005, when they were 30-30 on June 11th. The last time they were above .500 that late in the season was in 2004, when they were 23-22 on May 29th.
If the Pirates do end up with a 29-28 record on June 3rd, they’ll still have a long way to go, with two thirds of the season still remaining. Being above .500 at the start of June is pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things, although considering how bad the team was in 2010, it would be a huge step.
The month of May is a statement month for the Pirates, whether that statement is good or bad. It’s way too early to assume the Pirates could be surprise contenders. I wouldn’t even assume they have a strong shot at .500 this year. However, the month of May will tell us a lot about this team. Contenders don’t struggle against teams like the Padres, Astros, or any other team winning 45% or fewer games. Contenders hold their own against .500 teams, and end out ahead. Contenders also usually beat the Brewers, at least once a season.
The Pirates can make a statement in the month of May. They can come out and steamroll the struggling opponents, while holding their own against the teams like the Reds, Dodgers, and Braves. That wouldn’t guarantee anything, but it would show that the Pirates could be starting to turn the corner. At the same time, if they struggle to take series victories against teams like the Padres and Astros, and get hammered by the teams close to .500, it will make the statement that the Pirates are, once again, heading for the bottom of the MLB standings.
The month of May won’t set anything in stone, but it will be a big month for the Pirates to show what kind of team they are. Considering the strength of their upcoming schedule, it would be extremely disappointing if they were below .500 when June 3rd rolled around.