Pirates Making Me Look Silly

In June I predicted that there would be rain in Cayman in July.

Last night I predicted that the sun would rise in the morning.

With roughly the same degree of confidence, I predicted at the beginning of the season that the Pirates would have a significantly losing record. I didn’t even really predict it. I merely reminded you of something equally as predictable as the two non-predictions above. Conversely, I would have been just as comfortable saying that I could imagine the Pirates making it to the postseason just like I could imagine the Yankees trading an arbitration-eligible player to save payroll.

My problem is that it’s about to be August, and the Pirates are tied atop their division, which leaves in a tricky position. Do I a.) admit that I (and everyone else) got it wrong, or b.) assert that no, the Pirates really will be toast before the season is done.

Naturally I’m going to go for b.). Mainly because I still believe it. Not just because the Pirates are still awful, but also because the rest of the division can’t possibly continue to be this lame. And by the rest of the division, I really mean the Brewers (half a game back at time of writing), the Cardinals and the Brewers (four games back). The Astros really are the worst team in the majors, and possibly about to get worse if they trade their only good hitter, Hunter Pence, for prospects before the trade deadline on Sunday.

The Cubs are having a disappointing season that is only marginally more disappointing than the disappointing season we all knew they’d have. But the Cardinals have not gotten over the injury to Adam Wainwright, and Pujols, even allowing for his injury, is having the worst season of his career.

The Brewers are “only” four games back but are blowing the best chance in a generation at winning the division Fielder and Braun are playing like absolute studs (42HR between them) and Rickie Weeks is having a breakout year at 2B, but the pitching has been woeful. Ace Zach Greinke has a minor-leagues worthy 4.84 ERA while the one guy showing some serious life is unsung pickup Shaun Marcum at 3.35.

But seriously. The Pirates?

They’re leading their division with a win-loss record of 53-47, which would have them a distant third in the NL East. They’re 12th of 16 clubs in the NL in batting average, 14th in home runs and OPS (a metric combining on-base percentage and slugging percentage, which is basically a measure of power). Their pitching staff is 5th batting average allowed and ranks last in strikeouts, but…and here’s the thing…they are ranked fifth in ERA. Now fifth isn’t great, but it seems to be their strongest point, so it has to go some way to explaining why they have a winning record.

Basically they’re lucky.

Lucky that a disproportionate number of ground balls are finding the infielders and being turned into outs…so far.
Lucky that ownership hasn’t (yet) traded away their one good hitter (Andrew McCutcheon).
Lucky they play in the NL Central.
Lucky that having the third-highest fielding error percentage hasn’t come back to bite them…yet.

The only danger for the franchise is that ownership will now think their cherished strategy of getting rid of all their good players and drafting only those who’ll sign on for a low fee is not only profitable but gives them success on the field. They’re not equipped to progress in the postseason – the pitching simply isn’t there – so winning the division would be an empty victory anyway.

So as a fan of baseball and for the sake of the Pirates’ future, I don’t want them to win the division win this year. I want them to get close enough that ownership will get a sniff of what could happen if they stopped cheating their own fan base and started trying to sign and retain good players.

I still think the Pirates will be more like the Pirates and end up in a fight with the Reds for third.

But here’s hoping they keep making me look silly, and finish second.

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