Without a doubt, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to hit better if they want to be true contenders in the National League. When you consider the prospects of facing pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and a bunch of great players that don’t play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, this offense makes it seem like any advance past the first round will be a surprise.
But let’s not forget how the Pirates got to the top of the NL Central where they currently stand a game up on the St. Louis Cardinals.
At this point in the season, the Pirates’ best hope for a division title is the continuation of what has already been one of the best seasons for a Pirates staff in years. Yes, Neal Huntington can -and should- acquire Justin Morneau to give the Pirates a better left-handed bat to play first base. But who will most likely yield better results: Justin Morneau or the return of Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Grilli? The idea of getting a healthy starter, who has one of the lowest ERA’s for left-handed NL pitchers over the last five years, and one of the best closers in the game, certainly adds strength to an already league-best pitching staff.
No matter what, this game always reverts back to pitching for team success and for the Pirates, that’s no different. Yes, many remember the days of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bob Robertson, Manny Sanguillen, and Richie Hebner. But despite all of the attention the hitters received, the pitching was just as good.
The early 90’s Pirates possessed one of the greatest hitters of all time (juiced or clean) in Barry Bonds, but they also had one of the best pitching staffs in the league. With the Pirates creeping up on ending the two decade-old losing streak and contending for a title, it is not coincidence, but correlation that binds the success of the early 90’s Pirates to the 2013 team.
Through 124 games, the Pirates have allowed just 3.52 runs per game. That is the first time the Pirates have averaged giving up fewer than four runs per game since 1992. By contrast, the Buccos posted a higher team OPS in 15 of the 20 losing seasons than the 2013 Pirates’ offense. Remember Reggie Sanders hitting 31 homers in 2003? Probably, but the team still lost; A) because they traded away Aramis Ramirez, and B) because the pitching staff gave back all the runs that were scored. It also didn’t help that Mike Williams managed to take seven losses while giving up 17 earned runs in just 3.2 innings.
But enough about how terrible the Pirates have been over the last twenty years. The point is not to take a journey into past failures but to point out that the pitching still leads the way for this team. Obviously, the lineup (minus Andrew McCutchen) needs to pick it up and make games a little easier on the pitching staff. But this is still a team that will rely heavily on pitching from top to bottom.