We heard at the start of the season how the Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the toughest early season schedules in the game. Despite that schedule, the Pirates are 17-14, in second place in the NL Central, and sitting with the fifth highest winning percentage in the National League. They swept the Reds, took three of five against the Cardinals, and took three of four each against the Braves and Phillies.
Now the team is set up for a much easier schedule through the month of May. Their next few opponents, and their current records:
**2 games vs Seattle (15-18)
**4 games at Mets (12-16)
**4 games vs Milwaukee (14-16)
**3 games vs Houston (8-24)
**3 games vs Cubs (12-20)
**3 games vs Milwaukee (14-16)
**2 games at Detroit (19-11)
**2 games vs Detroit (19-11)
The next time the Pirates play a team that currently has a winning record will be May 27th against the Detroit Tigers. On paper, the schedule looks pretty easy, and looks like the Pirates could pad the win column. It doesn’t always play out that way though. For example, Milwaukee is a losing team right now, but Milwaukee. And Miller Park. Those two things have never screamed “winning” for the Pirates.
Then there’s the fact that the Pirates have been in this situation before. Last August, actually. They were contending at the end of July, and looking to add some easy wins down the stretch against the easiest schedule in the league. Instead they lost way too many games to the Padres and the Cubs down the stretch, as well as every other team they played.
I am encouraged by the current team, and feel the upcoming stretch has a lot of potential. There are three key reasons why I’m encouraged by the current team and see this potential:
1. The offense has been great, and really hasn’t seen a lot from the expected top performers like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. As James Santelli wrote today, both of those guys have been slow starters in their careers in April. There’s a chance that you could see Starling Marte, Russell Martin, Travis Snider, and/or the Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez platoon continue hitting, while adding McCutchen and Alvarez to the mix. That would only add to an offense that has been on fire since about the third week of the season.
2. The pitching hasn’t been great. Sure, the bullpen has been lights out, but the rotation hasn’t been that strong. It would be hard for the starters to do worse in May, especially since they’d have to do that against lesser teams. Plus, Francisco Liriano will be returning, which should give the rotation a boost. April had four starts from Jonathan Sanchez. May will replace those starts with Liriano, who has looked great during his rehab work.
3. Even though the Pirates lost two of three against Milwaukee, they didn’t look horrible doing it. The first game was one of those helpless losses against Milwaukee that we seem to see every series. But they didn’t give up in the second or third games, and kept battling back. The second game was almost a fluke. If they score eight runs with Wandy Rodriguez on the mound ten different times, I would say they’re going to win nine of those games. As I wrote after the Brewers series, the road to contending will go through Milwaukee. The Pirates have seven games this month against the Brewers. The rest of the schedule looks easy, but they’re going to have to post some winning numbers against Milwaukee if they want to contend this year.
Looking at the schedule, I think it would be very easy for the Pirates to be 31-23 at the end of the month. That would be going 3-4 against Milwaukee, splitting with Detroit, and winning every other series. They could pad those wins with sweeps against the Cubs, Mariners, Mets, and the Astros (oh, how we’ve missed you Houston). I did project a 9-3 record in those games, so if they lose more of those games than expected, it would have to be made up against Milwaukee or Detroit. Considering the schedule is getting easier, and both the offense and the rotation should be getting a boost, there’s little reason to think that the month of May won’t be very successful for the Pirates.
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.
**Be sure to check out the new podcast: P3 Episode 2: The Returning Pitchers, The Hot Start, and a Robby Rowland Interview.