When the weather starts to heat up, so do the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The recurring themes of the previous two seasons aren’t difficult to identify. Strong pitching, a good bullpen, organizational depth and some good defense.
As for the offense, it’s looking like the same story in 2015 as it was in each season prior. A cold April then lukewarm May evolves into scorching bats during the summer months.
In 2013, the Pirates went 17-9 in June and outscored their opponents by 22 runs. The next season, they put up a plus-25 run differential and a 17-10 record.
Pittsburgh finished a 10-game road trip with a 3-0 victory Sunday as Gerrit Cole became the National League’s ERA leader with a 1.73 mark while picking up his league-best ninth win. The Pirates went 7-3 as a series split against San Diego and series win in Atlanta sandwiched a three-game sweep of the defending World Series champions in San Francisco.
Between some excellent starting pitching and the offense beginning to match, the Pirates are 13-3 in their last 16 games and 31-25 on the season with a plus-45 run advantage. Since May 22, the Pirates have outscored their opposition by 36 runs.
And as in years past, Pittsburgh’s best baseball is on the horizon as the calendar turned to June. The Pirates are already 5-1 this month with a plus-11 run differential.
The Pirates now return to Pittsburgh for an eight-game homestand including three games against both Milwaukee and Philadelphia then a quick two-game set against the Chicago White Sox. Each one of the teams visiting PNC Park over those eight games has a losing record and resides in last place of its respective division. Milwaukee and Philadelphia also happen to have the two worst records in all of baseball.
Overall, Pittsburgh has 20 games left to play in the month of June. Of those games, 14 of them are at PNC Park, where the Pirates have established a pretty obvious home-field advantage.
The Pirates are 15-9 at home this season (16-16 on the road) and have won 116 of 186 games played at PNC Park since the start of 2013, good for a .624 winning percentage. Which is pretty good.
Beyond June, the lack of ground made up on St. Louis shouldn’t be of great concern looking ahead. The Cardinals have been the only team as hot as the Pirates in baseball over the last three weeks, but will eventually encounter some adversity in the next four months.
FanGraphs’ most recent playoff odds now have Pittsburgh touting a 68.9 percent chance to make the postseason–the best odds of any team currently not leading any of the league’s three divisions.
And, rather quietly it would seem, the Pirates now own the National League’s third-best record. Ahead of them are the West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers (32-24) and Cardinals, whose 37-19 mark is the best in baseball.
If the Pirates continue their trend of dominant baseball in June and through the summer, the issue of any ground lost to the Cardinals may not be an issue at all. Bear in mind, the season is barely a third of the way over so there’s a lot of time for posturing in the standings to take place.
For now, between their improved all-around game and a weak schedule, the Pirates will enjoy winning in June while it’s here.