A little more than two weeks ago, the Pirates returned home with a 18-20 record despite a plus-9 run differential overall.

In the Pirates’ first 38 games, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano made 23 starts combined. Pittsburgh went 10-13 in those starts.

Fast-forward to today, as the Pirates come off a sweep of San Francisco in the middle leg of a 10-game road trip, and the team is now 29-24. The Pirates are 11-4 in their last 15 games, taking possession of second place in the National League Central at six games behind St. Louis.

In 2015, five games above .500 stands as the Pirates’ high-water mark so far.

After Minnesota took its two games at PNC Park, this hot streak started with a three-game demolition of the New York Mets in which the Pirates outscored them 24-4 over three games. The Marlins were the next course, as the Pirates took advantage of the floundering franchise to pick up three more.

After a split in San Diego and sweep of the defending World Series champions, the Pirates look formidable.

Since May 19 Cole, Burnett and Liriano have made 10 starts. The Pirates are 8-2 in those games.

To boot, Charlie Morton’s return has gone better than even he and those in the organization would. He has a 1.93 ERA, scattering four total runs over a pair of seven inning starts already.

On May 18 I wrote that if the Pirates began capitalizing on their excellent starting pitching, it’d give them a good shot to win three of every five games. Now that they’re doing so, they’ve done even better.

There were of course some aberrations lately. Liriano had one of his “Bad Frank” starts against Minnesota to start the last homestand, giving up seven runs in two innings, but he’s yielded two earned runs in his last 19 innings since.

The other loss when one of the Big Three started also came in a Liriano outing, the one that was ended when Derek Norris traded in the embarrassment of four strikeouts in one game to bask in the glory of a game-winning grand slam off Rob Scahill.

Burnett has also labored through his past two starts, giving up nine runs in 10 2/3 innings. But he picked up winning decisions in each, as the offense scored 18 total runs between those two starts, picking up Burnett when it usually couldn’t in April.

Gerrit Cole has continued his Cy Young-caliber season with a 1.90 ERA. He’s allowed two earned runs over his last 22 1/3 innings.

The kicker is that, then or now, the Pirates trio of top-flight pitchers aren’t due for a lot of regression. Cole ranks fifth in the league with a 2.54 xFIP, Liriano is 10th at 2.80 and Burnett 24th at 3.25.

But the continued domination of these pitchers isn’t so much the story for the Pirates recent success, although it plays heavily into the team winning 11 of its past 15.

Most importantly, the team is finally taking advantage of its starting pitching, and not letting it go to waste as it did more often than not early on. Meaning, the Pirates are starting to put it all together.

The biggest issue was the hitting and the Pirates are scoring over five runs per game in this recent 15-game stretch. Andrew McCutchen is back to playing like himself, posting a 1.9 WAR in the last month alone while hitting .381 with a 1.127 OPS.

Josh Harrison has also broken out of his funk, Pedro Alvarez has been on one of his hot streaks, Francisco Cervelli has a .385 on-base percentage and Jung-ho Kang has kept hitting as he receives more and more playing time. Even Jordy Mercer hit a home run in each of the last two games against the Giants.

It’s unlikely the Pirates will continue to win 80 percent of the games started by Cole, Burnett and Liriano. But doing so has got their season back on track and anything close to this level of success will keep them in contention moving forward, even if the Cardinals are the only team besides the Pirates to go 8-2 in their last 10 games.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. The concern is that on this hot streak the Pirates have not even approached the Cards. The Pirates may be a contender but, honestly, it looks like we are a contender to host a Wild Card game again. Sure, there is plenty of season left, but 6-games is a lot for the Cardinals who are not the Brewers and unlikely to completely collapse.

    • Cards are playing near a .667 pace. They HAVE to come back down to earth. Their pitching will regress.

      It is a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng season.

    • On May 21 (two weeks ago today) the Pirates were 8.5 games behind the Cards.

      They’re now 6 games behind the Cards.

      There are 17 weeks left in the season.

      If they were to gain 2.5 games every two weeks, they would end the season 15 games ahead of the Cards.

      So much for “not even approached”.

      Obviously, the Pirates will not continue to win 11 games out of every 13 – but the Cards will also not continue to win 8 of ever 12.

      If you’re concerned that the Pirates haven’t made sufficient headway on the Cards on this hot streak, imagine how the Cards’ fans must feel. Their team has played at a .667 pace over the last two weeks and LOST 2.5 games in the standings.

      • By no means are the Pirates out of the Division race, but fact is the Cards only need to play .500 baseball the rest of the way to get to 90 wins. And they most certainly are *not* in the same position as the fluky Brewers last year.

        When a team as good as they are gets that hot for a third of the season, it’s awfully hard to catch up. Really is amazing what they’ve done without Wano and a shell of Yadi.

        • This would be my overall point. The Pirates aren’t “out” of it but again they spotted the Cards way too much of a lead and are, realistically, playing to host the Wild Card again.

      • The Pirates are a 93 win team, I think. The Cards would only have to play 3 games over .500 the rest of the way to win 93 games. We spotted them way too much of a lead.

        • I honestly don’t think the cardinals are really any better than a 93 win team, despite their hot start. I wouldn’t say I think we are better than a 93 win team either, and we are the team substantially behind, so I think the Cardinals win this one, but we aren’t out of it at all.

  2. Hopefully, Locke will regress to his mean and we will have a viable #5.

    I’m also hoping the Cards pitching comes back to earth.

  3. Did not know pirates had a hehe, I thought it was a whowho : ) as for pedro I don’t see him on one of his hot streaks, instead I see him becoming a more consistent hitter, in large part because he put ego on the shelf and started taking the free hits to left field.

  4. Did not know pirates had a hehe, I thought it was a whowho : ) as for pedro I don’t see him on one of his hot streaks, instead I see him becoming a more consistent hitter, in large part because he put ego on the shelf and started taking the free hits to left field.

      • Not just pedro’s ego, all hitters (and players) have egos that prevent them from taking a single for free, it’s a big reason why the shifts have been working so well.

          • foo: So far, the shifts have been used primarily against hitters who refuse to adjust to where the ball is pitched. Take Pedro for example – regardless of where the fielders were, the pitchers would still pitch him outside, because he tried to pull everything. Now that he has shown the ability to stay back and go with the pitch, and sometimes with excellent power, the teams/pitchers will now have to readjust. Notice the last few games where the SS has been to the left side of 2B?

            Pedro has truly elevated his relative worth in a trade. He will also find out that staying back will help him hit lefties better also. It is not selfishness, it is a kid who never had to make that adjustment.

            • Just my opinion, feel free to lambaste it, but I think a little much is being made of what amounts to 11 hits to the opposite field.

              • When he had about 11 hits that way in the past 3 years combined…..it’s worth taking about, he has even had a fair number of hard hit flyouts to left field

                • Coming into this year, I thought Pedro was done as a hitter. He (despite what Tim has said) was the most clueless i’ve ever seen him, not in a slump, but completely unable to recognize a changeup and absolutely no plate discipline whatsoever regarding offspeed pitches of any kind. His pitch recognition this year has been better than ever in his entire career, i’ve seen him do things and take swings with 2 strikes that his goal was to hit the ball and not strikeout. He’s never once done this to my recollection in the first 5 years of his career

          • Sure they do, my point is they are pitching to major league hitters, don’t you think they should be good enough if not for ego to slap the ball away from the shift and get a cheap single.

            • lol, nice pilbo, very nice. I’ll try that retort the next time Luke and I are debating, i’m sure he’ll love it

            • Certain hitters natural swing makes it very difficult to hit the ball the other way, just like for others its really hard to pull the ball. I coming up from the time when i was 7 until i quit playing in my early 20’s, had massive difficulty pulling a pitch. I have an inside out swing, and also very handsy. Most players are not in the major leagues because of the “hit” skill, and most of the players whom have big shifts, is because their power skill. Players like Pedro literally never had a time in their lives where they needed to hit the ball the other way, so its hard to ask a player to figure that out after 5000 lifetime at bats from the time they are a kid onwards, to do something very different. some can do it, but a lot of them feel their likelihood of being succesful while trying is still less than them just taking their normal approach and trying to hit the ball hard.

              • I am mostly playing devils advocate though, because honestly, it pisses me off that a major league hitter can’t just shorten his swing and throw his hands at a ball. Equally dumb though, is a pitcher…….with two strikes, throwing a pitch outside to a hitter to whom a shift is on….it really can’t get much easier than that for a competent hitter

              • Any hitter worth being called such can shorten up the swing to slap a ball through a 90 foot wide hole regardless of how many times they have or have not been asked to do so. It’s got nothing to do with hitting the ball hard and everything to do with ego, what hitter wants to be called a dink and dunk hitter. Hell a bunt would be just as good the only thing stopping these guys (major leaguers) from doing so is pride and perception.

                • okay then we will agree to disagree. I think you give today’s hitters too much credit for adaptability and not enough credit for putting the team first.

                  • Anybody in any field who reaches the pinnacle of his or her field is going to have an ego, it does not mean they are bad people or are not team players, it simply means they are human. Baseball players are a prime example of this, it’s not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing it’s just fact no matter which way you slice it. By the way, thanks for the convo. .

                    • Its not a matter of how you slice it if you believe the “reason” for them unable to hit against a shift is ego. It’s pretty black and white, sure it is with some players, maybe even most- but definitely not all. The ego can instead drive a player to want to have the highest batting average, which would drive them to prove the other team wrong and thus show his ego for actually taking advantage of the somewhat insulting shift.

                    • That wanting to be a great hitter part would be great if that were the way todays baseball was played and it may very well become that way again, for now though it’s a pretty selfish bunch that is trotting onto the field these days. There are exceptions which is encouraging for the long term future of baseball, for now though for the most part we are stuck with high strikeout rates from guys who have no clue what a defensive swing with two strikes is.

                    • Sadly I am in agreement. We just differ in the reasons “why” we think players are like that. I think it’s because we’ve stopped developing ballplayers and are only interested in putting the strongest, fastest, most projectable players out there, and the less baseball they have played the better- because they have more room to grow……….yeah, right. I’ll take a ballplayer any day, give me Wally Backman, Dustin Pedroia, Jay Bell, Shawon Dunston…. guys who can PLAY baseball the with hustle, brains, and discipline

  5. Pirates still have to hit in order to take advantage of good pitching. Loss of Russell Martin hurts. He was clutch. Cervelli and Stewart are doing a fine job but there is no replacing what Martin brought to the team. Winning attitude and perspective rubbed off on other players.

    • Agreed, Cervelli and Stewart ave done a fine job but for me the defensive side of the catching spot is still a concern. These guys don’t have the presence of Russ Martin and never will especially with the running game. I’d trade Cervelli for a .000 hitting Martin right now

      • Cervelli is one of the top pitch framers and Stewart has held his own throwing guys out.

        The Martin leadership effect is overblown, too. The Pirate pitchers rave about Cervelli. And Cole, obviously, loves pitching to Stewart.

        The two of them aren’t as good as Martin, but the ROI blows him away.

      • Ask the Yankees what they think about Martin. All you say is true for Russ Martin the Pirate. The presence may have been a little guy wearing 22 who seems to inspire all, Martin included.

      • One thing to say you think Martin was a better overall player, its likely true and you dont “replace” his stats from last year.

        Bit absurd to say that Cervelli clearly doesnt have the presence of Martin (since the guys do gush about him) and that the defense is a concern. Cervelli is rating as the best pitch framer in the game this year, so actually gaining something there. Not as quality with the running game, so what you gain in framing you lose in throwing. With Cervelli hitting well, we did about as well as anyone should expect in replacing Martin.

        I enjoy all of what Martin does on the field, but his abilities seem to have gotten blown way up in PIT. Like no one could ever touch his presence and on and on.

    • I think Cervelli has been quite clutch this year. He has continually come up with big hits late in games. Case in point, he drove in the insurance run the Bucs needed yesterday. I think they are doing just fine.

    • Russel Martin is a great player deserves every dollar he is getting. To deny Cervelli any credit as a Pirate is just foolish.

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