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Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

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Pirates fans came out for “Cutch.”

Will they come back for the Bucs? 

Early indications are the better-than-anticipated brand of baseball the Pirates have put on display this season will remain a tougher sell than the welcoming back of a former franchise icon.

Andrew McCutchen’s long-awaited return with the San Francisco Giants drew crowds of 34,720 last Friday, 27,502 last Saturday and 22,649 last Sunday. The ovations for McCutchen were repeated and thunderous. Fans outlasted a hail storm on Saturday and even presented McCutchen with two bouquets of Mother’s Day flowers on Sunday.

The energy and emotion in and around PNC Park was palpable.

But this week’s subsequent two-game series with the Chicago White Sox played out in relative seclusion.

The announced crowd for Tuesday night’s 7-0 victory was 11,847.

The listed figure jumped to 20,206 for Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 win, just the sixth time in 19 home dates that attendance had surpassed 20,000.

Brutal weather has been a factor.

But so has an off-season outrage on the part of the fan base over the trades of McCutchen and pitcher Gerrit Cole, and ownership’s continued insistence on throwing nickels around like manhole covers when it comes to payroll.

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

But a funny thing has happened on the way to not going to the ballpark.

The Pirates have morphed into a team worth watching.

Wednesday’s decision over the woeful White Sox kept the Pirates in first place in the N.L. Central Division and upped their record to a still-hard-to-appreciate 25-17.

The sample size is a mere 42 of 162 games, not definitive but also not insignificant.

So far, at least, the 2018 Pirates have surprised.

As Clint Hurdle might observe in a moment of clarity, who had that?

The follow-up question involves whether or not the Pirates’ pace is sustainable.

Early indications are it might be, at that.

A great deal has played out as the Pirates hoped it would so far this season, but it’s not as if the Bucs have maxed out in terms of realizing their preseason projections.

Jameson Taillon was supposed to be the horse of the starting rotation, but he took the mound on Wednesday with a 2-3 record and 4.08 ERA. He earned a no-decision against Chicago and still hasn’t won since his one-hit shutout of the Reds on April 8.

Ivan Nova has posted some uncharacteristic numbers through his first nine starts, particularly as it relates to his ERA (5.01).

Josh Harrison, one of the Pirates’ best and most versatile players, played in just 14 of the first 42 games due to injury.

Joe Musgrove, a key component amid the return gleaned for Cole, has yet to throw a big-league pitch due to injury.

The eighth-inning “set up” role is in flux after veteran reliever George Kontos’ demotion this week.

And while Gregory Polanco has seemingly remembered how to drive in runs (his April-May total of 22 is approaching 2017’s anemic full-season output of 35), he’s apparently forgotten how to hit for average (.228).

It’s reasonable to suspect the Pirates can and will get more from all of those guys than they’ve gotten already.

So the potential to keep turning heads, even continue to contend, is apparent.

And if that happens, the fans will be back.

They’ll get over their angst, their apathy, even their adoration of McCutchen.

They won’t forgive but they’ll forget, at least temporarily.

It’s up to the Bucs to continue winning until then.

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