Pirates Progress Report No. 2: This team is .... fun! An unexpected start in every way
This is fun. Are you having fun? I am having fun. You should be having fun.
Checking in with the local nine….
It is impossible to state just how unexpected the first month of the Major League Baseball season has been for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
You want a competitive team? You have one right now. Entering play on Friday they have the best record in the National League at 18-8, and have done that despite losing their most promising young player — shortstop Oneil Cruz — for most of the season due to a fractured ankle.
You want a sign they are serious about building something long-term? You got that when they did what seemed to be the impossible and signed star outfielder Bryan Reynolds to a long-term contract extension, giving him the largest deal in franchise history and actually exceeding the $100 million mark for a player. Even better, it is probably a below market deal compared deal compared to what Reynolds is worth on the open market and does not even include the opt-out clause he reportedly wanted. It is an ideal contract for the team in almost every way.
You want something to make you feel good? Andrew McCutchen is not only back in Pittsburgh, he is still really, really good and one of the driving contributors to this start.
They are not only off to a better than expected start, they are also fun to watch. Like legitimately exciting. I am not talking about the home run celebrations or the personalities on the team, either. I am talking about the style of baseball they play.
Offensively, they are near the top of the league in extra-base hits and stolen bases. They can hit for power, and they can cause havoc on the base paths with their team speed. They have feasted on the new rule changes that have brought the running game back to the forefront of baseball, and their veteran additions (McCutchen, Carlos Santana, and Conner Joe) have been everything they could have hoped for and more so far.
The most stunning development of them all, though, is the pitching staff.
At least the top half of the rotation and some aspects of the bullpen.
Long-term skepticism of the pitching staff is still warranted because we are still very much in the “small sample size” territory of the season. But the right players that you need to see improvement from are showing that improvement.
Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras have been mostly outstanding, as the Pirates need them to be. But the early emergence of Johan Oviedo is a pleasant development that could be a game-changer for the rotation as a whole.
The “they haven’t played anybody yet” argument is still going to get thrown around, and that might be playing a role in the start on both an individual and team level, but there are two things to keep in mind with that.
1) They have still beaten the good teams they have played for the most part, including taking two of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers (which should have been a sweep).
2) You can only play the teams in front of you, and even beating the bad teams was a struggle for the Pirates a year ago. Because they were the bad team that everybody else feasted on. That is how you lose 100 games. If they are going to be even remotely competitive this season they need to bank wins against the bottom teams on their schedule. Cincinnati. Colorado. Chicago White Sox. Beat those teams. Stack the wins when you can. The Pirates have done exactly that. There is nothing wrong with that. It is not only a good thing, it is a needed and necessary thing.
A few more random thoughts on this start, including an extremely positive review on the MLB Ballpark Pass.
That thing RULES.
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