We are at the one quarter mark of the Major League Baseball season. With the Pittsburgh Pirates at 43 games into their season, it is still way too early to prognosticate what is going to happen for the rest of the season or to effectively evaluate what has happened to this point. But it’s fun to do it anyway. The Pirates are 20-23 under new manager Clint Hurdle which is not much better than what they have been in recent years past. So, is this a better team or is it the same old Pirates?
A big answer to this question may have came over the weekend when the Pirates swept a mini-series with the NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds. Going into the series, the Pirates were 18-23 and riding a six game losing streak. Their record was also the same as it was at that point last season. Many of the young hitters were continuing early season slumps, the bullpen which was excellent to start the season was beginning to crack, and many of the decisions that Hurdle was making were being scrutinized.
The Pirates of last year and of many of the 17 years previous to that would have folded. The six game losing streak would have turned into a much longer one. Every time one player would come out of a slump, a new player would go into one and before you knew it, interleague play would be over and we would be heading into July looking at a team with no realistic shot at .500 or contending for anything important.
This year’s team did something different. This year’s team sent their new found ace, Charlie Morton, to the hill and put it on his shoulders to lift the team out of its current funk and he did a commendable job. James McDonald took the mound yesterday and continued the success. Some of those young bats started to break out of their slumps. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker have turned into doubles machines and Pedro Alvarez hit his first home run in over a month and is beginning to look more patient at the plate.
The young Bucs haven’t passed this test yet though. Tonight they take on the Detroit Tigers who hail from the AL Central which marks the beginning of interleague play. The Pirates have the worst record of any Major League team by far since interleague play was instituted at 73-123. Their record against the Tigers is 10-14. They are lucky that they won’t have to face Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander who recently threw his second career no hitter. They will have to face Max Scherzer in this series though. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers with a perfect record of 6-0. The Pirates also won’t have Morton or McDonald to fall back on.
Again, it is way too early in the season to say that this year’s team is different than the 18 losing teams before it. However, that fact hasn’t stopped those Pirates teams in the past from throwing in the towel way too early and leaving their fans putting up with a very long and painful summer. Tonight is the night that the Pirates can take their first step of many on the path of regaining respectability in the city of Pittsburgh.