How does one grade the Pittsburgh Pirates in their performance over 26 games in the month of May? The team went 13-13; 4-5 at home and 9-8 on the road. The starting rotation went 12 consecutive games of allowing 2 runs or less while the offense remained inconsistent. In April, the Pirates batted .230/.303/.340 while striking out 226 times and drawing a putrid 91 walks while the the pitching staff combined for a 3.64 ERA. After the first month, the Pirates were 12-15 as most figured the hitting would improve while the pitching would tail off.
That never happened.
Instead, the pitching continued to get better, posting a 3.26 ERA in May while the hitting improved on a minuscule level. The team batting average rose a mere 6 points from .230 to .236 and the strike out totals lowered from 226 to 203. The batting average is based on a couple of blowout games. Two weeks ago, the Pirates crushed the Tigers 10-1, belting out 10 hits, and last Saturday they blew out the Cubs 10-0 with 10 more hits. Other than that, the Pirates have been pretty bad at the plate.
Nevertheless, the Pirates were .500 in the month of May with a chance to start June on a good note against a Mets' team that is in shambles. Pittsburgh's media and fans have expressed great concern of two things: 1) The pitching staff cannot continue to be this effective 2) Are the Pirates ever going to hit as well as they should? Call me an optimist, but why can't the Pirates pitch as effectively as they have all season while the bats start to heat up? Because they're the Pirates? That may be true but this team has already shown it is a much improved team from last year, maybe the last few years. A slight regression in the rotation is predictable as the Pirates are the only team to have 3 starters ranked in the top 20 in ERA in the National League (Morton, Maholm, Correia). But a minor drop off in the rotation would be welcomed if it meant the Pirates could start hitting consistently.
June could be the major turning point in this season. By win %, the Pirates play 4 of the top 6 teams in Major League Baseball (Indians, Phillies, Red Sox, Diamondbacks) and they'll have to do it without a hot-hitting Ryan Doumit who batted .283/.365/.500 in May. With Doumit out 4-6 weeks, the Pirates could turn things around if Pedro Alvarez comes off the DL hitting. But that really seems to be reaching, based on this season so far for Pedro. Regardless, this team, as it will all season, falls on the pitching staff. With a healthy Evan Meek, combined with a highly effective Jose Veras and dominant Joel Hanrahan, the Pirates have shortened the game considerably. It will be the starters' job to eat up 6+ innings each start.
The good news is that the remaining teams on the schedule in June are extremely beatable. The Pirates play 4 games against the Mets and 3 games a piece against the Astros, Orioles and Blue Jays. If the Pirates can survive against the good teams, as they have all year, while winning series against the beatable teams, they can look forward to an interesting July, where the team may have to own up to their promise of being buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline. Still, the team needs to play well in June, something they failed to do in recent years.