Heading into this season, the greatest challenge for the Pittsburgh Pirates appeared to be surviving their first forty games. When the schedule was released, the Pirates -on paper- were believed to have the toughest first third of the season. On the outset, it seemed unfair to have the least successful sports franchise over the last two decades start the season against NL contenders such as San Fransisco, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Washington, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.

As predicted, the Pirates stumbled out of the gate going 12-16 in their first 28 games. The pitching was excellent while the hitting was bad at a historic level. Every night the offense tried to bleed runs out of a stone hoping to give their pitchers just enough support to squeak out a win. There was a lot of frustration over the level of underachievement by Pedro Alvarez, Casey Mcgehee, Clint Barmes, Jose Tabata, Rod Barajas, and Garrett Jones. On many nights, the offense weren't able to produce enough.

And yet, the Pirates were able to stay around .500, winning series against the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros. During their first forty games, the Pirates had plenty of chances to collapse; losing 2 out of 3 against the Cardinals, then losing the following series against the Cincinnati Reds. That type of losing stretch would normally sink the Pirates' season, but instead, they held on.

The Pirates entered June with what looked to be their toughest stretch of the season, playing 18 of 27 games on the road with three series against teams leading their respective divisions at the time. Most fans, including me, expected a 12-15 record in June. The Pirates, however, put forth their best effort, going 17-10 winning 8 of 9 series in the process.

The success carried over in July where the Pirates started this month with a 4-1 record, including their first four game series sweep over Houston since 1979. After fighting through the first three months of the season, facing Cy Young pitcher after Cy Young pitcher, road series after road series, the Pirates are now in a position to strike the NL and make a possible run at the playoffs.

Yes, I said playoffs, Mr. Mora.

After a three game home series against the San Francisco Giants, the Pirates will not face a winning team until August 3rd against the Reds. Between now and August 3rd, the Pirates have 13 games against teams that are at least 15 games under .500 including another four game series against the Houston Astros.

The time is now for the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates. They have a chance to extend their record to 15-20 games over 500 by the end of the month. Playoff teams take advantage of these opportunities and with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Pirates have a chance to put themselves in an excellent position for a playoff spot.

Obviously the season doesn't end in July. But the final two months aren't nearly as tumultuous on paper, as the first three months of the season. Last year, the Pirates collapsed due to faulty pitching, and an unbearable schedule in August. This year, the Pirates don't have quite as many challenges in the final third of the regular season.

If there are any worries about the team looking ahead, forget about it. While they are young, the Pirates haven't forgotten the quick collapse of their promising season last year. Since Spring Training, the team's mantra has been "finish", a reminder to build off the successes of last season while showing the focus and determination to avoid the failures.

Ten games over .500 is exciting, winning baseball in Pittsburgh is exciting, but it pales in comparison to what this team is capable of doing, especially if they add a bat/arm at the deadline and call up an electric prospect in Starling Marte. The league handed them a big challenge in the first half of the season and now it's time for the Pirates to take advantage of a weak second half.

Get ready Pittsburgh, the best is yet to come.

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