Don't look now, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in baseball (48-30), and the 20-year playoff drought is going to end.
The Pirates have won in so many different ways and continue to fly under the radar despite their record.
There are many reasons why the Pirates are built for success this year.
Beating Good Teams
When you look at the Pirates' record against some of the other top teams in baseball, you see them beating them on a regular basis.
The Pirates are 11-8 against teams leading their division with the Atlanta Braves (3-4) being the only division leaders having gotten the best of them.
The bottom line is the Pirates can hang with the best teams in the league.
But how are they doing it?
Pitching, Pitching and More Pitching
Pittsburgh has been getting things done on the mound.
Its pitching currently ranks first in baseball in multiple categories including ERA (3.20), saves (30), shutouts (12), earned runs allowed (251) and opponents batting average (.226).
When you lead in those categories, you're bound to have success.
Division-rival St. Louis may have a sexier rotation of pitchers, but the Pirates also have good consistency.
Jeff Locke has dominated this year, going 7-1 with a 2.06 ERA, earning him consideration for the All-Star Game. Then there's A.J. Burnett, who isn't picking up wins, but still has a 3.12 ERA and 99 strikeouts.
Add in Francisco Liriano's 2.30 ERA and Gerrit Cole bursting onto the scene winning his first three MLB starts.
As if the rotation isn't enough, the Pirates also have the best late-inning combo this year in Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli. Melancon has 22 holds on the year and a 0.94 ERA, while Grilli has 26 saves and a 1.82 ERA.
If it gets to the eighth inning, you can pretty much shut the book on a team coming back on the Pirates. Melancon and Grilli have been great this year and are also deserving of All-Star spots.
There is nothing too impressive about the Pirates' offense. They rank 20th in runs (306), 24th in batting average (.242), 21st in on-base percentage (.308) and 19th in slugging percentage (.392).
But somehow they still manage to find ways to win.
Andrew McCutchen has the highest batting average at .287, while Pedro Alvarez has belted 19 home runs, but is batting .242.
There is honestly no real way of explaining the Pirates on offense, except for the fact that they're scoring enough to win.
What Will Make Them Successful?
While the season is just about at the halfway point, there is still a long way to go.
But the Pirates have a great rotation and great bullpen that has led to their success.
As we saw with Oakland last year, great pitching can lead you to the playoffs.
The biggest question will be, can they get anywhere in the playoffs with only great pitching?
That question will be answered further down the road, but for now, I (along with all Pirates fans) will enjoy watching a team end its 20-year playoff drought.
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