If you haven’t been paying close attention to the National League Central, you might have thought that the team currently sitting in first place would be the St. Louis Cardinals. That is not the case. The team currently leading the tight race that also includes the Cincinnati Reds is the Pittsburgh Pirates. The last time a Pirates team was in the playoffs was 1992 when they lost the NL Championship Series in seven games to the Atlanta Braves. This year, many fans of the Pirates are finally feeling optimistic about the season, but one question needs to be asked. How good are the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates?
The simple answer to that question is they are just that good. They have a stellar pitching staff to go with a mediocre defense, but they do enough of the little things to get wins. They have a lot of veteran leadership that know how to win, which mixes well with the younger players that haven’t had the same success.
Offensively, the biggest star is outfielder Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen, 26, a fifth-year player out of Florida is one of the best players in all of baseball, yet one of the most underappreciated. He is a career .290 hitter and was coming off his best season to date a year ago when he batted .327 with 31 home runs and 96 RBIs. His numbers aren’t as good this year (.292, 9 HR, 42 RBIs), but he is getting more production out of the rest of the lineup than he has in years past. Pedro Alvarez has 20 homers and 53 RBIs while Starling Marte is hitting .288 with 32 extra-base hits.
The pitching staff has a solid blend of youth and experience. Veteran Francisco Liriano has finally found his amazing stuff again and is tied for the team lead in wins with seven along with youngster Jeff Locke. While his record is less than .500, A.J. Burnett has a stellar 3.12 ERA and the team has gotten great starting performances from James MacDonald, Jeanmar Gomez and Gerrit Cole, who is 4-0 in four starts.
The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates have all the talent to get into the playoffs and could win a series, but their biggest problem may be their offense. Outside of McCutchen and Marte, all other starters are hitting .256 or less. When it comes to facing a stacked pitching staff in the postseason, a weak offense could be the demise of the Pirates and other weak offensive teams like the Braves.