A month ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates were sitting at 13-15, two games under .500, heading in to their series against the San Diego Padres. At the time I wrote about how the month of May was a statement month for the Pirates. Their opponents for the remainder of the month had a 129-157 record, and not a single opponent had a winning record at the time. At the time, my thought was that the Pirates needed to end up with a 29-28 record following today’s game with the New York Mets:
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.
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.
If the Pirates win today, they will have taken three of four from the Mets, but will be sitting at 27-28 (note: they had two games postponed). It wasn’t a horrible month for the Pirates. They took two of three against the Padres, and did the same against the Astros, two teams that were well below .500 at the start of the month. They also beat up on other poor performing teams, such as the Cubs, Tigers, and now the Mets. They even swept a two game series against the Cincinnati Reds, a team that was at .500 to begin the month, and currently sits at 29-28.
The Pirates did what they are supposed to do. They beat up on bad teams. If they are to be taken seriously, they need to beat up on poor performing teams like the Padres (24-32), Astros (22-34), Cubs (23-31), and Mets (25-30). However, if they want to be considered contenders, they need to have the same success against teams that are actually winning against other teams. They did that by taking two games against the Reds, who went 14-15 in the month of May. They also took two of three against the Tigers, who entered the month with a 12-15 record, and went 16-11 in May.
However, the Pirates also lost two of three to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that went 12-16 in May. They lost a game to the Washington Nationals, who are currently 24-31, and went 11-17 in May. They were swept in a three game series against the Brewers, a team they just can’t seem to beat. They also were swept in a two game series against the Braves, who went 17-11 in May.
It’s definitely impressive that the Pirates have a chance to be one game under .500 on June 2nd, especially when you consider that they were the worst team in the majors last year. However, this team doesn’t look like a contender. They’re beating up on poor performing teams, and losing against teams with a winning record. That’s improvement, since they weren’t even winning against the bad teams last year. At the same time, it doesn’t give much hope for their chances going forward.
The month of June will be tougher than the month of May. The Pirates start out with a three game series against the Philadelphia Phillies (34-22). They follow that up with three games against the Arizona Diamondbacks (31-25). They catch a break with four more games against the Mets (25-30), followed by three games against the Astros (22-34). Then they have three games against Cleveland (33-20), and three games against Boston (30-26), with a three game series against the Orioles (25-29) sandwiched in between. They finish off the month with a three game series against Toronto (28-28).
The Pirates could take two games from the Astros and Orioles, along with three of five games against the Mets (counting today’s contest). However, in order to enter July with a winning record, they’d have to play .500 ball against the first place Phillies, the first place Diamondbacks, the first place Indians, the second place Red Sox, and the .500 Blue Jays. Considering their lack of success to date against winning teams, the odds of them entering July with a record around .500 are slim. If they do manage to pull it off, that might be something to get excited about.
So what does this mean for the Pirates going forward? For one, it should affect their approach with trades. There have been some comments about players who could be trade candidates this year, such as Paul Maholm and Joel Hanrahan, stating that those players shouldn’t be traded, and should help the Pirates try to compete. The Pirates obviously aren’t competing this year. That’s obvious by their results against winning teams this year. Even if they add at the deadline, they’re unlikely to be better than a .500 team.
What this means is that, if the right deal comes along, the Pirates shouldn’t hesitate to deal guys like Maholm and Hanrahan. Despite sitting close to .500, they have not shown themselves to be contenders. If they can get a strong return that can help them for the long term, they need to take it. Ideally, they could add a top prospect who could arrive in 2012, or maybe even make an Octavio Dotel type deal to get some immediate help. Overall, the Pirates’ performance this year should not be a reason to avoid trading players. Maybe that would be the case if they were beating good teams, but so far the Pirates have been beating up on bad teams, and losing to the good ones. That’s a good step from last year, but it doesn’t mean they’re contenders yet.