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.