Playing The Right Way Has Pirates Playing a Different Game
The Bucs’ hot start is just that. But if they keep playing how they’ve been playing, an entertaining summer of baseball isn’t beyond their grasp.
The sample size is still way too small to get a read on where the Pirates may be headed, but if nothing else they’ve already established an identity.
The Bucs returned home from Colorado for the opening of a four-game series with the Reds on Thursday night having played 19 of 162 games and having won 12 of them. They’d done it with pitching and with power. They’d done it by playing long ball and small ball. And they’d done it with contributions from across the lineup and the roster in the wake of the potentially-crippling loss of superstar-to-be Oneil Cruz.
But what resonated more than anything in the immediate aftermath of a three-game sweep of the Rockies in which the Pirates scored 33 runs and allowed nine was the way they’d been playing the game.
Flashback to Monday and the first of three in Denver:
It was already 6-0 Bucs in the top of the second when Carlos Santana stepped up to the plate with one out and runners at first and third. Santana managed a ground ball to short that could have resulted in an inning-ending double play but didn’t because Santana, who had turned 37 on April 8 and who happened to be playing in his 1,800th Major League game, hustled down the line and beat the relay to first.
Fielder’s choice, RBI, and now it was 7-0.
Now fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon:
Once again, the Pirates were ahead 6-0 in the top of the second. This time, Santana was at first after drawing a walk. And this time, he relentlessly churned his way to third on a single by Conner Joe.
Yet another hustle play in what became yet another four-run inning for a 9-0 advantage.
That stuff, as much as anything else, defined Pirates Baseball through 19 games.
They’ve been hitting the ball far enough to jog around the bases with regularity. But they’ve also been stealing bases and they’ve been taking extra bases when a batted ball has found the outfield grass. They’ve advanced runners from second to third and they’ve gone from first to third and they’ve even bunted runners home from third.
They’ve for the most part caught it and thrown it the way it needs to be caught and thrown.
But they’ve done everything, it seems, with passion and purpose.
For love of the game.
It’s the type of baseball that’s sustainable for the professionally committed, even if a .632 winning percentage isn’t.
It’s not as if someone was hitting .500 or had blasted 20 home runs through the first 19 games.
There wasn’t a balloon that was doomed to burst.
Mark Mathias collecting six hits combined in the last two games against the Rockies may have been an outlier. But no one else was doing anything at a clip that suggested a return back to earth was either imminent, inevitable or both.
Individually and collectively, it’s been at least as much about how the Pirates have been playing as how well.
When you couple that type of full-throttle, take-nothing-for-granted approach with starting pitching that delivers at least six credible innings, something Pirates’ starters had done nine consecutive times through the series finale against the Rockies, all of a sudden anything seems possible.
Veterans such as Santana and Andrew McCutchen have provided not only much-needed, on-field steadiness but also much-needed veteran presence.
Youngsters are playing with hunger and, somehow, with confidence.
And the identity established, through 19 games, at least, is these Bucs are a team that’s fun to watch.