With what can easily be considered the best first half any Pirates team has put together in the last 20 years, many fans are beginning to believe that this year’s Buccos will finally break the streak of losing seasons and can perhaps make a run at the division. So at the all star break, the fans believe, the coaches believe, the players believe, and from the sound of things, the front office really believes the 2012 Pirates are capable of making a run. With the everyone behind the surging Pirates, we here at BB&G thought it might be a good time to break down the 5 things to expect in the second half from this year’s Pirates:
- Big time buyers at the trade deadline– Rumors are already swirling around about the Pirates being buyers at this year’s trade deadline. We have already contacted teams with interest in Justin Upton and Carlos Quentin. Either player would plug the big whole we have in left field and could maybe give the Pirates the edge they need to really be in contention for the division title. But even if we can’t bring in either of these big bats, you can still expect a couple moves to be made. The Pirates will probably try to solidify the back of the rotation somehow but won’t be willing to give up to much in order to do so. Also, it appears that Joel Hanrahan is one of the best bargaining chips we have going, and from the way things look right now, I can’t imagine he will be a Pirate come August.
- The cool down of hot bats– The pirates started the season with one of the worst offenses going. For the first month and a half of the season, the team batting average was barely above .200 and they were near the bottom of the league in every major statistical category.Then the middle of May rolled around, and all you can say since is…..WOW!The bats have been ON FIRE! Since mid May, the Pirates are arguably the best offensive team in baseball. Their power numbers are extraordinary all of a sudden and every game someone new is stepping up with a big hit with RISP. Whether it is Suton hitting a walkoff, Pedro hitting a ball in the river, Mcgehee or McKenry driving in some runs, or Walker going 5 for 5, somebody different is contributing every game. More than anything though, it has more to do with the play of Andrew McCutchen. Everyone knows about how great of a hitter McCutchen has become by now. He leads the majors in batting average and total bases and is in the top 5 in the NL in HR, OBP, OPS, R, and RBI. He is easily on his way to the best season by any Pirate hitter since Barry Bonds. And while McCutchen’s success may very well be sustainable long term, it is not fair to keep expecting the rest of the offense to be producing at such a high level. Alvarez will continue to hit for power, Walker for average, and the roll players could still produce some timely hits but this huge surge in scoring will eventually come back to earth.
- Pitching continues to have success– Last year the Pirates fell apart because the pitching couldn’t sustain throughout the course of the long season. This year, things are different. Burnett and McDonald are legit and will continue their track towards success and Jeff Karstens has had back-to-back solid outings. Correia and Bedard could be a little more effective but those positions may be addressed at the deadline. As for the bullpen, their solid play should continue as well. Grilli has had the best season of his career but his strikeout numbers tell me that it might really be for real. Linocln has been absolutely phenomenal in relief and Hanrahan has been solid as the closer. This year you can expect the staff to continue to pitch well which should translate into longterm success.
- Home field dominance – Finally, the Pirates use their park to their advantage. They boast the best home field record this year and with the increased attendance, PNC Park has become a very difficult place to play for the opposition. The pitching staff has easily the best home ERA of any team in baseball and the timely hitting as of late has given the Pirates 29-14 record at home in the first half. That kind of record might not be sustainable, but continued success at home is still very realistic.
- A close clubhouse – In 2012, anyone who has been watching games on a regular basis can see that this team has fun playing together. They have a great mix of veteran leadership, young talent, and hustle. Simply put, these guys play hard. Not just for themselves and not necessarily for each other even, but for the city as a whole. These guys are all well aware how bad this city wants this team to be successful and they feed off the fans energy. Add that in with a great motivator of a coach, and you have a team that is loose, having fun, and is ready to win.
All things considered, even if the bats slow down, this team can remain competitive. My prediction for the Pirates from here is 87-75 and the second WC spot. I really believe this team has what it takes to stay in the race, but it is important for all other fans to remember that even if the Pirates fall short of the playoffs this year, they have made tremendous strides to become a quality franchise once again. So everyone be sure to get out there and support the Bucs. Embrace this team like you do the Steelers and Penguins, because this team can go as far far as the city pushes them to.