Up-and-Down Bucs Survive First Half With Hope Intact
The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to embrace the second half of the season with anticipation if not expectation.
They made it to the break in a competitive position if not a comfortable one, but considering where the Pirates were about a month ago, “competitive” is good enough.
Three over and seven-and-a-half out in the N.L. Central, one-and-a-half back in the race for the second wild card.
The Pirates can live with that.
The Pirates can work with that.
The Pirates might even appreciate that given that they were five games under .500 at 34-39 on June 23, given that they trailed the first-place Cubs by 15 games on June 19.
The starting pitching continues to inspire more consternation than confidence. And a breakout weekend against the Cubs isn’t enough to establish that Andrew McCutchen has broken free from his season-long slump.
But the Pirates have also had their share of pleasant surprises through the course of the regular season’s first 89 games as well as their share of encouraging developments, enough of both to suggest all is not yet lost and much might still be possible.
- John Jaso transitioning to first base in a fashion that’s helped to make the position something much more than the black hole it had been and delivering the anticipated ability to get on base from the top of the lineup.
- David Freese contributing on both sides of the infield and at the plate well beyond the delayed return of Jung Ho Kang. How is it that Freese was still available to be signed on March 11?
- Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco turning apparent corners along the way to becoming the type outfielders on the corners McCutchen is in center when he isn’t slumping.
- Eric Fryer and Erik Kratz giving the Pirates enough behind the plate to keep the wheels from falling off in the absences of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, enough to win with at a position where less than that can be lethal.
- A career-year pace at the plate from Sean Rodriguez, who is doing so much more than beating up the Gatorade cooler this season no matter what position he’s being asked to play.
- Pop off the bench from Matt Joyce and possibilities to ponder from Josh Bell, who enjoyed a stunningly successful introduction to the big leagues just before the All-Star break. Maybe Bell goes back to the minors, anyway. Maybe he sticks around a while longer and his magical run continues. Maybe he’ll be back in September, and he’ll pick up where he left off.
- Kang performing upon his return at a level that suggests he’ll continue to contribute as long as he continues to be available to do so.
It’s all added up to 46-43. The Pirates got there the hard way, enduring a 6-20 stretch and also finding ways to beat Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta along the way.
And they could still go either way.
But the unofficial second half of the season that commences on Friday night at Washington beckons with five off days in the first 25 (that has to help the beleaguered starting staff, if only because one fewer beleaguered starter will be required at times), and with 34 of 73 remaining games scheduled to be played against Milwaukee (16), Cincinnati (11) and Philadelphia (seven).
The Pirates did just enough in the days before the All-Star break to make all of that sound intriguing.
They should embrace the second half with anticipation if not expectation.