For a Change This August, The Pirates Are Still Worth Watching
They won’t win a pennant, probably won’t even finish with a winning record. But what they’ll put on display the rest of the way has a chance to resonate sooner rather than later.
In a week in which the Penguins made a blockbuster trade and the Steelers geared up for their first preseason game, I’m here to talk baseball.
Pirates baseball, specifically.
They’re in the midst of another going-nowhere season as August lurches toward September.
Ever since the trade deadline, there has been no Choi in Mudville.
Long before that, actually.
And yet the Pirates are still relevant, still interesting, still on the radar.
They’re that because of what they’ve become and because of where they may possibly be headed.
In the meantime, the plan for how to get there is on full display.
And yes, it’s compelling.
Never more so than on Monday night, when the Buccos hosted the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves hit town as the best team in baseball. And their starting lineup for the first game of a four-game series at PNC Park included seven All-Stars.
Not seven players who have made an All-Star Game at some point of their careers.
And not one who was selected simply because every team has to be represented, even the garbage teams.
Seven players who were so designated this season on merit.
The Pirates countered with a lineup that included six rookies.
They relied upon two more of those as the game progressed.
And two players whose rookie eligibility expired last season.
And they somehow won the game, 7-6.
It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.
Such things happen over the course of 162 games, to be certain.
But what made this game intriguing, and what’ll make the Pirates worth paying attention to the rest of the way, is the pedigree of the rookies/slash/prospects they’re throwing into the deep end in an effort to determine whether or not they can swim.
This isn’t the usual in-season tryout camp the Pirates have often resorted to at this point of a campaign.
This is on-the-job training.
The rookies the Pirates threw at the Braves on Monday night, the players they’ll continue running out onto the field as underdogs are the presumptive future, Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez, in particular.
And those two may yet be joined by Oneil Cruz sooner rather than later.
That’s when the not-too-distant future will come into focus with even more clarity, potentially, than it did on Monday night.
So when rookie Carmen Mlodzinski, pitching in his 20th Major League game, faces All-Stars Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Matt Olson, the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 hitters in the Atlanta batting order, in succession, as Mlodzinski did on Monday night, there’s more at stake than just a 7-5 lead (which Mlodzinski protected by inducing a groundout and consecutive pop-ups).
Such moments matter because of what they might mean down the road, individually and collectively.
Whether or not they’ll keep the team together, assuming a team eventually develops that’s worth spending the money to maintain, is another matter entirely.
But for now, determining whether such a team is actually developing, and the reasonable anticipation of how quickly it might mature is just enough.