The Pirates defeated the Astros last night, nudging them one game above .500 after 67 games. The last time Pittsburgh had a winning record this late in a season was August 15, 1999.
Sporting the fourth-lowest roster payroll in baseball ($45,630,000), they are in fourth place in the NL Central but only four games out of first. They are seven games ahead of the Cubs (payroll: $126,380,663) in the standings.
While I am hardly alone in having doubts that their performance to date is sustainable — for example, Paul Maholm’s BABIP is a ridiculously low .243 (.308 lifetime) — there is little doubt that the team’s pitching and defense have markedly improved and Andrew McCutchen (.394 wOBA) may be the most exciting player in the game to watch.
I asked earlier this season what could the Pirates organization do, other than winning, to give their long-suffering fans a reason to be optimistic. Well, McCutchen has not yet signed a contract extension, although player and team representatives have talked, but at least the Bucs are playing respectable baseball.
Meanwhile, it is time for fans to acknowledge the solid work of general manager Neal Huntington, who has endured more criticism than any of his peers.
Matt Shetler of Sportshaze echoes my support of Huntington:
Given the limited resources at Huntington’s disposal, he’s done a very good job in his time here. Remembering the fact that he didn’t have superstars to deal in the first place, he’s come out smelling like roses.
Then there is the draft, where Huntington has excelled for the past four seasons. He had the strategy of building through the amateur draft and has stuck to the plan.
Facts are facts. There is now more talent in the Pirates organization now, than at any point in the past 18 years. That’s due mainly in part to Huntington adding a wealth of talent through the draft the past four seasons.
Anyway, congratulations, citizens and friends of Steel City! While a 34-33 record should not be confused with capturing the Stanley Cup, you may take comfort and pride in knowing that the Pirates are relevant again.