First Pitch: These Pirates Are Good, But…

In tonight’s game story, James Santelli broke down the great homestand the Pirates just had, and how impressive it was that they beat three teams who look like they’ll be heading to the playoffs this year. I thought about following up on that by looking back at what I’ve said over the last two years when the Pirates started to look promising.

There have been times in each of the last two years where the Pirates have beaten big opponents. In 2011 it was the series against the Red Sox in late June. Last year it was beating teams like St. Louis and San Francisco in late June and early July. In each season they moved into first place in mid-July, and in each season they saw a huge collapse in the second half.

Because of that, it’s impossible to make any long-term projections about the Pirates competing. Last year you could point to the 2011 collapse and talk about how unlikely that would be again in 2012. In a logical world you can point to the 2011 collapse and the 2012 collapse and talk about how it would be improbable for that to happen again. But the world isn’t logical for Pirates fans. Pretty much anything that could go wrong, will go wrong.

That’s too bad, because any other team could get excited by what has happened early in the season. Consider:

**The Pirates swept the Cincinnati Reds, who were the best team in the division last year.

**They split two games with the St. Louis Cardinals, and were winning 4-2 in a game that was cancelled.

**They took three of four against the Atlanta Braves, who entered the series as the hottest team in baseball.

**Their Pythagorean record matches up with their actual 10-8 record.

**They have the 26th best OPS in the league, which is driven down a lot by their first week.

**Two of their top hitters are Travis Snider and Starling Marte, who are two of the guys they needed to step up to contend this year.

**Their starting pitchers rank 18th in ERA, and their top three of A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald have some strong combined numbers on the season.

**Their bullpen is one of the top bullpens in the game right now.

There’s definitely some downsides. The starters as a whole aren’t going many innings, which will hurt the bullpen in the long run. There are relievers in the bullpen who will see some regression. The offense was driven down by a bad first week, but the good offense is only a span of two other weeks. They beat three potential playoff teams, but lost a series they should have won against the Chicago Cubs, and they’ve been known to lose “should-win” matchups in the past.

Overall I think the positives outweigh the negatives. But then there’s the collapse. No matter how good the Pirates look this year, the collapses from the last two years make it impossible to believe in them. You can’t even say they’re a good team without adding that disclaimer. If any other team just took three of four against the Braves after winning 3 of 5 against the Cardinals and Reds, they’d be considered contenders. The Pirates aren’t going to get that treatment this year, maybe not at all. There might be one point later in the summer where people start believing again. They’ll forget about the collapses and start pulling for the team. But after two collapses in two years, a third collapse will probably be in the back of everyone’s mind, no matter how improbable it may be.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.

**Prospect Watch: Bell Has a Big Day at the Plate, Cole Struggles With Control.

**Bradenton Marauders Riding a Wave of Walk Off Victories.

**Castro Sharp in West Virginia Win.

**Pirates Beat Braves 4-2 to Complete Successful Homestand.

**Video Breakdown: Another promising start for Pimentel.

**Prospect Notebook: Sampson’s Early Inning Jitters, Benedict’s Off-Speed Stuff.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Bryant Breaks School Home Run Record.

**Minor League Schedule: 4/22/13.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • leadoff

    Everyone that has a pencil or a microphone is going to rub it into Pirate fans faces that the Pirates are a lousy team 1/4 of the year and a lucky team the other 3/4′s. We know that, this team is not different than last years everything is exactly the same, Pirate management did nothing to address the problems of last year. So I guess every time we beat a “Contender” we should just chalk it up to luck and keep saying wait till September, you Pirate fans will see, we told you so, about a hundred times, you did it last year and the year before and since this is exactly the same team, same management, same everything we should do it again.
    Sometimes we let worrying about the future get in the way of the sheer joy of watching and rooting for a major league team.
    The Pirates could lose the next 15 in a row and I would not like it, but instead of looking at last year or the 20 years before that, I will analyze the problem, or try to analyze why this team lost the last 15 in a row, sometimes history tells you something and sometimes history tells you nothing, if the pundits know exactly what is going to happen, the Pirates should not play another game, there is no point to it, they are playing for nothing.
    I sat in 40o weather and watched a good team beat another good team in a well played no luck for either team head to head competition. Both were good teams, but I could not tell another human with a straight face that I knew if either one of them would be around in September, important pieces of either one of these teams could be gone by September, much like what happened to the Pirates last year. Right now the Pirates are playing teams head up, I don’t think those teams are giving games to the lucky Pirates.

  • Brian

    Jonathan Sanchez looks like a mess. Is it possible he gets replaced by Andy Oliver in the rotation, not Francisco Liriano?

    I’m happy that Russell Martin has begun to light up. He’s already provided more value on defense than Barajas did all last season.

    • leadoff

      I don’t think Sanchez was a mess at all, he gave up 2 runs, threw a lot of pitches yes, got hosed by the umpire with strikes that should have ended innings.
      If you look at the “Way” he pitched before and the way he is pitching now, he is improving, every game this year has been an improvement, I would hate to cut this guy and someone pick him up and he turns out to be very effective. If he gets a couple more starts I think he will surprise a lot of people.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ron.loreski Ron Loreski

        Ya that 11.12 ERA isn’t a mess at all. Sanchez hasn’t been effective since 2010. Time for him to go. I’d rather see Justin Wilson or Genmar Gomez in the rotation than this guy.

        • leadoff

          That 11.12 ERA means very little to me at this time of year, how he is throwing means a lot more, bring the ERA stat around when he has over hundred innings and maybe it will mean something to me.

        • leadoff

          That 11.12 ERA means very little to me, how he is throwing means more. That ERA might mean something when or if he gets to 100 innings.

  • emjayinTN

    As long as Burnett, Rodriguez, and JMAC stay in the “zone” they are in at the present time, I can handle Jeff Locke in a developmental stage, and Sanchez, Oliver, or Liriano. We are a month and a half away from seeing Gerrit Cole if he gives the front office what they want to see. The Pirates had the start of the 2013/2014 seasons in mind when they traded for Wandy Rodriguez, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez; WROD is better than hoped, Sanchez did well in his time with the Pirates in 2012 and Snider showed well but fell to injury. This year they are all contributors to this lineup, and the FO added Russell Martin, Jennmar Gomez, Mark Melancon, and the three veteran lefties – Liriano, Sanchez, and Oliver. Most importantly, they did not allow Jason Grilli to escape, and he has been the leader of a solid and very young (except for him) bullpen that currently ranks 3rd in the majors with a 2.03 ERA. With Marte and Snider up among the league leaders in hitting, the Pirates are a very impressive 1 thru 7 at the plate, with a very solid and experienced bench.