Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin
Many Pittsburgh Pirates fans have been calling for their teams collapse the deeper into the season they go. Pittsburgh was swept in Colorado by the Rockies last weekend and they lost 2-of-3 to the Cardinals.
This has Pirates fans in a meltdown. Many over them have taken to social media networks to express their frustration with the team, but numerous fans are certain this is the beginning of the collapse.
Anyone who continues to support a team after 20 losing seasons and two late season collapses has a right to display their concern. It takes a lot to stay loyal to one team through so much frustration for so long, but it seems like some of them want the Pirates to lose. They want to be right.
Why anyone would be so miserable as to want a team to lose just so they can say “I was right, I never should have believed” and that’s not a good attitude to have towards a team. There is such a thing as realistic expectations. Baseball is a long season. No Pirates fan expected this year’s team to win 120 games. Many called manager Clint Hurdle crazy for predicting 95 wins.
It’s not even about being happy about the team at all times, it is about being reasonable. The Pirates are in the thick of a pennant race in the best division in baseball.
The last week has been a difficult one for both Pirates fans and players. No one likes losing, but let’s look at the big picture. Pittsburgh is 22 games over .500 on August 16. They have a two game lead over the Cardinals for first place.
They have one of the strongest bullpens in baseball. Jason Grilli is feeling good and should return at the end of August or beginning of September. Mark Melancon has been an excellent closer, but Grilli will only improve the bullpen.
Wandy Rodriguez is also on the verge of returning. He will not be back sooner than Grilli, but Rodriguez could be back by mid-September. When Rodriguez returns, it is an upgrade on a strong starting rotation. If Gerrit Cole is moved to the bullpen, he will make an already strong bullpen better.
People often wonder if the Pirates rotation can hold up. Francisco Liriano bounced back on Wednesday night after a horrible 12 hit, 10 run outing in Colorado. Liriano shined against the Cardinals as he threw a complete game. Charlie Morton seems to be improving each and every game. A.J. Burnett has followed a rough outing in Colorado with another rough outing on Thursday. Despite his struggles over the last two weeks, Burnett has been good all year for the Pirates.
The Pirates offense is the one questionable part of the team. Neil Walker has been heating up during the month of August. The switch-hitting second baseman raised his average from .244 to .258. They also have an MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, a twenty-four year old outfielder who’s eighth in the league among position players in WAR in Starling Marte, and the second best home run hitter in the league in Pedro Alvarez.
Utilityman Josh Harrison has came up clutch for the Pirates since his call up from AAA Indianapolis in July. He had a walk-off home run and other key hits for the Pirates. The right field question mark still exists, but Jose Tabata has been hitting the ball well recently. He was 3-for-3 against the Cardinals on Thursday after coming in as a pinch hitter.
This is not the same Pirates team from 2011 or 2012. They are above mediocre and the best team Pittsburgh has put on the field since the 1990′s.
The Pirates are not just a winning team but a playoff team. For the first time in 20 years, the Pirates are going to finish over .500. They won’t be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist in baseball. They will lose games, make errors and have bad managerial decisions, but they are a legitimate contender.
Maybe the most epic collapse is on the horizon, and if so those Pirates fans called it better than the rest of us. Until then let’s hold off on the collapse take just because of a bad week of baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals have just come off two bad weeks of baseball, and they are still in the thick of things. This is what makes a pennant race run. So sit back and enjoy it.