Pirates riding the winds of victory

Don’t look now, but outfielder Starling Marte has returned from a PED suspension and the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the race for the NL Central title. The Pirates sunk the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers with a 3-2 walk-off win in the 10th inning Wednesday night, and improved to 10-2 in their last 12 contests. With the win, Pittsburgh jumped to just four games back of the leaders, and overtook the St. Louis Cardinals for third place in the Central. The problem for the rest of the division is that things don’t look like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon, as the Pirates appear to have smooth seas ahead.

Playing their best baseball of the season, the Pirates are set to wrap up a four-game series against the Brewers then head out on a nine-game road trip. The first stop on the roadie is by far the toughest as the Bucs will dock for three games against the Rockies. After an 18-4 drubbing of the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night, the Rockies improved to 9-15 since June 21. Despite the Rockies’ recent struggles, it should be a solid test for the Pirates.

After the stop in Denver, the Pirates will make port in California to split six games against the San Francisco Giants and Padres, who are dwelling in the basement of the NL West with records of 37-59 and 40-54, respectively. These six games should be a solid opportunity for the Pirates, now at full strength, to take on some wins. The seas won’t likely get rough after the completion of the road trip, as Pittsburgh then plays 13 more games against sub-.500 teams, with eight of those coming at home. For those keeping track, that’s just three of 22 games against teams with a winning record.

Meanwhile, the teams Pittsburgh is looking up at in the Brewers and Chicago Cubs have a more difficult stretch. The Brewers play 13 of 23 games against teams over .500, while the Cubs will have 12 of 22 game against teams north of the .500 mark.

A big part of the Pirates’ resurgence can be explained by the re-emergence of outfielder Andrew McCutchen. During June and July, McCutchen has hit nine dingers, 10 doubles, driven in 28 RBIs, and is batting .377. This is compared to a .222 average, eight homers, nine doubles, and 24 RBIs in the first two months of the season. Fourteen games into July, McCutchen is yet to even bounce into a double play.

With the return of Marte to the lineup, McCutchen playing like himself, and a favorable schedule through the middle of August, the Pirates are very much in the hunt in this division. In fact, don’t be too surprised if the Jolly Roger takes over the top spot in the weak NL Central by the end of August.

Photo by Brigham Berthold

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