The Pirates have electrified the city of Pittsburgh as they have a chance to finish with a winning record for the first time since 1992. At this point, there is no reason to think that the Pirates can’t stay in the National League Central race for the rest of the summer.
Start with the schedule. The Pirates have a huge advantage over the other contenders. Starting tonight, Pittsburgh will play 32 games against the Reds, Cards and Brewers over the final 11 weeks of the season and a large majority (22) of those games will be at home where the Pirates have a winning record and where the fan base is rejuvenated.
The Pirates made the right choice bringing in manager Clint Hurdle. He is a winner who has energized the club house and the franchise overall. Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and closer Joel Hanrahan are emerging stars and the pitching is suprisingly good. The starting rotation of Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, James McDonald, Jeff karstens and Charlie Morton have combined for 37 wins and their combined ERA is the best in the division.
The Pirates must improve their offense and they are in the unique position of being buyers heading toward the July 31 trade deadline.
The other contenders in the division also have noticeable flaws.
The Brewers are one of the worst road teams in the National league with just 18 wins away from home as of July 18. The win at Colorado Sunday marked the first time in six weeks Milwaukee had won back to back road games. The Brewers made the first big move with the acquisition of reliever Francisco Rodriguez, but it won’t help if the team can’t catch the ball. The Brewers infield defense is the worst in the division. All four starting infielders have committed at least ten errors (3B Casey McGehee 13, 2B Rickie Weeks 12, SS Yuniesky Betancourt 10 in just 328 chances and 1B Prince Fielder 11.)
The Cardinals have battled injuries all season as Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, David Freese and key reserve Allen Craig have missed considerable time. But the offense has managed a consistent effort led by suprisingly effective MVP candidate Lance Berkman. The Cardinals are second in the division to the Reds in runs per game. The problem for this team comes at the end of games. St. Louis has no reliable lefthander reliever and has the the most blown saves in the division.
The problem for the Reds is consistency (or lack of.) The unbelievable stat with this team is that It’s been over a month since Cincinnati has won back to back games (June 13-14 vs. the Dodgers.) The Reds have failed to gain traction with their starting pitching. Cincinnati’s combined ERA among the starters is near the bottom of the league. Three of the pitchers who started the season in the rotation have spent time the minor leagues. The leader of the staff (Johnny Cueto) has a history of fading in the second half with a post All-Star break ERA of 4.88.
The team that most successfully patches the holes on the team will be the one that survives into October.