This nasty road trip continues, with a first place team up next on the schedule. That would be the... Pittsburgh Pirates?
How can this be? The Pirates have been lousy for almost all of the last thirty years. With the exception of the three seasons from 2013-2015 when Andrew McCutchen was at the peak of his powers, the Pirates have posted a losing record every year since 1993. They entered 2023 fresh off back-to-back 100 loss seasons.
It probably helps to play a lot of lousy teams. The Pirates have played seven games against the 13-18 Cincinnati Reds; they've played four games against the 10-22 Cardinals, three against the 10-22 White Sox, three against the 12-20 Rockies, and three against the 13-18 Nationals. You can only play the teams in front of you, an the Pirates have won 14 of 20 against these bottom-feeders. Against the better teams, their record isn't quite so impressive. They did take two of three from the Dodgers, but they lost two of three to Houston and they're coming home with wounds that need licking, having just been swept by those Devilish Rays.
So it's a little hard to know how much of the improvement is real. Sophomore outfielder Jack Suwinski has an OPS of .918 and appears to have moved Bryan Reynolds to left field. Connor Joe came over from Colorado and is hitting much, much better as a Pirate than he ever did in Coors Field. The two old pros that they brought in for this season are contributing as well. Andrew McCutchen is back in Pittsburgh, and I'm sure all Jays fans will be happy to see Evil Ways Santana one more time. It's the outfield, Suwinski, Joe, and Reynolds, that are leading the offense, which is averaging 5 runs per game, fifth best figure in the National League. Last year's team scored just 3.65 per game - only the Marlins were worse.
They're not giving up as many runs either. The 2022 Pirates allowed 5.04 runs per game - only the Nationals and the Rockies were worse. This year's squad is allowing just 3.84 per game, and only the Braves and the Cubs (the Cubs?) have been better. It's mostly a new rotation. Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras, who were both just fine in 2022 although their W-L records don't reflect it, are the returnees. They've been joined by Johan Oviedo, who came over from the Cardinals in the Jose Quintana deal and a couple of free agents: the ancient Rich Hill (still pitching, still left-handed) and the perpetually mediocre Vince Velasquez. And it's working - Keller and Velasquez have been especially effective, and the other three have been solid or better. The front half of the bullpen has been very good - closer David Bednar has been especially impressive.
I very much doubt that this will prove to be a playoff team. But I think they've got a decent chance to fight the league to a draw, and give Pittsburgh just its fourth winning season in the last thirty years. I promise, they're not going to lose 100 games. Not this time.
Fri 5 May - Bassitt (3-2, 5.18) vs Hill (3-2, 4.18)
Sat 6 May - Berrios (2-3, 5.29) vs Oviedo (2-2, 4.78)
Sun 7 May - Kikuchi (4-1, 4.02) vs Contreras (3-2, 4.09)