The Pirates came into this series against the Texas Rangers fresh off a four game losing streak. They were swept by the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend, and fell 1.5 games out of first place. Naturally, they would have been lucky to win one game against the Texas Rangers. The six games against the Reds at the end of the season would also be difficult. They would need to pad the win column against the Cubs and Padres, except there’s only so many games they could be expected to win, despite the Cubs and Padres being bad teams.
The 2014 schedule came out today, featuring the Pirates playing the AL East and the Detroit Tigers in interleague play next year. That’s difficult for the Pirates, since they’re going up against a tougher schedule than this year.
Each of these cases represents a common opinion on the team. The Pirates are a game out of first place. They’ve been contenders all year. But there’s still this feeling that they’re not a good team. So when they go up against a good team, the view is that they’ve got little to no chance to win. When they go up against a bad team, they’re not good enough to pile up some wins. If they’ve got a tough schedule, it makes it unlikely that they can compete.
All of these things are valid arguments if you’re talking about a bad team, or even an average team. But if you’re talking about a good team, the arguments change and nothing matters. Playing good teams? You still can contend. Tougher schedule? Still going to contend.
The Pirates are a good team.
Sure, no one thinks that after the weekend where they were swept against the Cardinals. Because somehow that cancels out the week before where they took two of three, or the series in August where they took four of five, or the season series where they went 10-9. The Cardinals are a good team, and the Pirates showed this year that they can hang with the good teams.
Or what about the tough schedule? That’s more than just the Cardinals. That’s a lot of good teams. Here are the records by the Pirates against winning teams this year:
Total: 35-32 (.522)
Now here are the other contending teams in the National League:
ATL: 38-22 (.633)
LAD: 31-28 (.525)
STL: 33-35 (.485)
CIN: 34-38 (.472)
The Braves have been unreal this year against winning teams, thanks in large part to their dominance over Washington (12-4). That said, they’re also 3-0 against Cleveland and 5-2 against the Dodgers. If you break down the rest of the teams, the Pirates have the third best winning percentage against winning teams.
The Pirates aren’t the best team in the majors. But you don’t need to be the best team to be a good team. With the exception of the Braves, all of the contending teams in the NL are winning close to 50% of their games. Some teams are slightly above that mark, and some teams are slightly below that. This is what good teams do. They hold their own against other good teams, then beat up on the bad teams.
The Pirates have held their own against the good teams in baseball, to the point where they’ve done a better job against winning teams than the Cardinals or Reds. They’re doing what they need to do against losing teams to get to the point where they can realistically contend for the division.
So when it comes to tough opponents the rest of the year, or a tough schedule next year, none of that matters. It’s going to be difficult, but the Pirates have shown that they’re a good team. And good teams don’t worry about tough schedules or tough opponents, because they have what it takes to beat those teams. It may sound premature to say this after two wins against the Rangers on the road. But it’s also premature to draw any conclusions on a three game series against the Cardinals over the weekend. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the truth is that the Pirates are a good team. It’s time to start realizing that.
Links and Notes
**A new episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast is coming out tomorrow afternoon with a very special mystery guest.
**If you missed it from last night: The Fall and Rise of the Pittsburgh Pirates: 100 Moments From The Streak
**Wilbur Miller has a great look at how this team was built. Hint: it was built using the same methods the Pirates have used for years: The More Things Stay the Same, the More They Change