It was a big weekend for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s rare that you hear that in baseball in early May, but with their win Sunday over the Houston Astros at PNC Park, the Pirates sit at 15-15 and have a .500 record this late into the season for the first time since 2005, when they hit 30-30 in mid-June. That’s something that fans of the Yankees or Red Sox would be distraught over, but for Pirates fans, it’s a sign of progress and a reason for excitement.
Believe me when I say I understand that .500 baseball is nothing to be excited about, in most cases. But this isn’t most cases. We’re talking about the Pirates; the team that hasn’t had a winning season in nearly two decades. This is a team that has grown into a fertilizing ground for the bigger clubs in MLB, famously giving away players such as Jason Schmidt, Aramis Ramirez, and now Jose Bautista for next to nothing during their streak of futility. Every time I see Bautista hit a home run, I shake my head and cringe a little bit on the inside. Nevertheless, .500 is not something I, or any other Pirate fan, wants to see this team finish at. We’re from the Steel City for crying out loud! We want this team to be a winner. Maybe we’re spoiled from the Steelers and Penguins, but we expect winners, and that expectation carries over to the Pirates, too!
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In all honesty, the Pirates could not have picked a better time to hit .500. It was a home series that drew relatively good crowds (including myself Friday night) due to three days of good promotions (t-shirts on Friday, fireworks on Saturday and kid’s mini-bat/Mother’s Day on Sunday). Fans came out to the stadium this weekend, and the team showed they can play competitive baseball. Even in their loss on Friday night (regrettably dropping my season record in games attended to 0-2), they showed fight, made good contact on the ball and were in the game until the last out of the ninth inning. The team is improved, and is undoubtedly the most talented they’ve put on the field this decade, even though a lot of that talent is still unrealized. Hitting .500 at home is significant because the team needs to be drawing crowds based on performance, not because of giveaways and freebies.
Looking ahead, the team has a good chance to head into June a game or two over the .500 mark. Their May schedule is fairly easy, with series against the Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs and Mets. To boot, the offense is due to pick up the slack. Brandon Wood has proved to be a good pickup, so far, making solid contributions in good situations for the team. Andrew McCutchen is bound to break his slump sooner rather than later and, hopefully, when Pedro Alvarez comes back from his injury, he’ll remember how to swing a baseball bat. As long as the pitching holds up, the team can undoubtedly maintain a record around .500 heading into the dog days of summer baseball.
Again, I stress: .500 nothing to get excited about. Maybe the headline was a little over the top, considering, but for a team as futile as the Pirates have been, I’ll take it right now and view it as a sign of progress. Baby steps people, baby steps.