Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

It hasn’t gone according to the original script, but the Pirates have found a way to stay relevant — and may yet be capable of finishing what they started.

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Steve Blass has seen almost everything in his 60 seasons with the Pirates, but rarely if ever has the pitcher-turned-broadcaster seen a season similar to the current campaign.

Blass was asked this week if the Pirates were: (A) a team whose 44-45 record heading into the All-Star break was an overachievement; (B) a team that had pretty much reached the ceiling of its collective capabilities (the vicinity of a .500, give or take a game); or (C) a team that still had another gear and would continue to contend in the season’s unofficial second half.

Blass offered up an all-encompassing, one-word response.

“Yes.”

Turns out the answer is: (D) all of the above.

“The thing is, all things are possible,” Blass said. “The minute I think I have the game figured out, it goes sideways. They have that bad trip, they lose seven in a row, I say, ‘Well, this is a decent club but I don’t know if they can climb back out of any abyss that they get into for a week or so,’ but they certainly did.|

“This is a club I didn’t think was going to score a lot of runs and we all thought coming out of spring training was going to be a pitching-driven baseball team, they’re knocking the cover off the ball.

“So I don’t know what’s coming next, but if you can solidify the pitching …”

A big if, to be certain.

The season has gone sideways for Jameson Taillon more than any other Pirate. He was supposed to be the lead arm on that pitching-driven baseball team Blass and so many of the rest of us anticipated. At this juncture, it’s uncertain (if not unlikely) Taillon will be able to contribute anything the rest of the way.

The pressure remains on the rest of the staff — Chris Archer and Joe Musgrove, in particular — to fill the massive void left in Taillon’s absence, and to comprise a rotation more representative of the Pirates’ initial expectations.

But it’s not just Archer and Musgrove who can, should and must deliver more in the season’s second half.

Second baseman Adam Frazier has been an under-the-radar underachiever. Frazier’s disappointing start was overshadowed to an extent by the Pirates’ profound injury issues, and by the feel-good stories being written by the likes of Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman, to name three.

But Frazier celebrated the All-Star break as the National League Player of the Week. And while he won’t go 18-for-30 in many weeks the rest of the way, Frazier’s resurgence offers evidence these Pirates may yet continue to ascend.

It hasn’t gone according to plan. But the contending status the Pirates take with them to Chicago this weekend need not be as good as it gets.

Now, Blass says, he’s “starting to think about a little young core of Pirates.”

“Colin Moran, he looks like he’s 35 under the beard but he’s only been around a couple of years. Bell has only been around two or three years. And then you’re talking about Frazier, Newman, Reynolds.

“Quietly, they’re concocting a little group.”

One that has been surprisingly resilient to this juncture. One that’s stopped blowing leads with regularity and started to make a habit out of coming from behind.

One that continues to personify the unpredictable nature of baseball.

And one that’s as difficult to figure out as it has been fun to watch. 

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section