Pirates are for real this year

If you’re wondering whether you’ve read this column topic before, well you probably have.
During the last two summers, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been right in the mix in the NL Central Division, and have been on the verge of having their first season with a .500 record or better since 1992.
Then, as if on cue, the team heads into a vicious downward spiral towards yet another losing season, which is enough to drive most fans onto the edge of a cliff.
However, heading into last night’s game against the Washington Nationals, the Pirates find themselves with a 58-39 record and just 1.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the division race.
Not only that, but the Pirates also are in the lead in the NL wild-card race, which gives them to a chance to play in a one-game, winner-take-all showdown for the final post-season berth if they can’t win the division title.
However, the question remains, can the Pirates actually finish with a winning season for the first time since Barry Bonds was the star attraction in Pittsburgh.
I actually think so. I mean, they are nearly 20 games above .500 at this point in time.
In order to have a losing season now, the entire team would have to come down with food poisoning or something out of a science fiction novel would have to happen.
The biggest difference between this team and the ones of the past two seasons that have sniffed at success is the fact this roster is a far better one.
The kingpin is Andrew McCutchen, a talented multi-tool outfielder who is nearing household name status after contending for the NL MVP award last season.
But there are other strong players in the lineup, too, such as third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who seems well on his way to smashing his career best single-season home run total of 30.
In the rotation, a pair of starters are having seasons nobody expected. Former Minnesota Twins’ hurler Francisco Liriano is looking like he did back in his rookie season in 2006 while one-time Atlanta Braves’ prospect Jeff Locke has busted out to a 9-2 record with a 2.11 ERA in his first big-league season.
From the top of the squad to the bottom of the depth chart, the Pirates have a much stronger roster than many of the more heralded squads heading into this season, such as the disappointing Toronto Blue Jays and the L.A. Angels.
Plus, it looks like the Pirates could become even stronger in the years to come as their farm system is one of the top three in baseball, according to Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus.
But while they are on track for a winning season, their playoff situation is a little murky.
It’s quickly becoming a triple-threat match to win the Central Division between the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds, with the two losers in that trio more than likely going head-to-head in the wild-card play-in game.
And even if the Pirates survive that affair, they still would have to go through the other three division winners in the National League just to get to the World Series.
Nevertheless, if the Pirates happen to make it into the playoffs this fall, I certainly will be cheering them on given their struggles over the past two decades.
However, if they happen to play my Tampa Bay Rays in the “Fall Classic,” then I’ll be hoping they get swept in short order.