The Pittsburgh Pirates started off the season on Cloud 9 with a tremendous 20-8 record. Everything was clicking. They were fielding, getting on base, hitting homers, and pitching very well. This all seemed to change when they headed to St. Petersburg for a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, who are having one of the best starts to a season in Major League history. That and a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays saw the Pirates on a seven-game losing streak, dating back to a loss in Washington.
With that, there are 2 questions I have about the Pirates. The answer to both of those questions could very well be yes.
Does Pittsburgh losing six out of six games to Tampa and Toronto show just how good those teams are?
The Rays are undoubtedly the best team in Major League Baseball right now, and that is evident considering they have a 7.0-game lead in the AL East, the best division in the league. They have rolled through almost everyone they’ve faced and have shown little to no signs of slowing down.
The Blue Jays are no afterthought either. They have a very strong batting order, highlighted by Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette, who are both currently having MVP-caliber seasons. This is backed by a decent starting pitching rotation and a reliable bullpen.
All that being said, the Pirates were outscored 7-37 in that six-game stretch. That is unacceptable no matter who the opponent is, and good teams don’t just fold to other good teams like that.
Does this show that the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t really as good as they seemed to be?
Pittsburgh had an interesting offseason. They handed out a lot of one-year deals to veterans, brought back Pittsburgh legend Andrew McCutchen, and recently gave Bryan Reynolds a long-term contract extension. This plan lead to some uncertainty as to how the season would go. For the first ~30 games it looked terrific, but we all know anything can happen at the beginning of an MLB season.
The Pirates have four out of their nine normal starters hitting with an OPS greater than .800. That never hurts, but none of them seemed to be the same at the plate when they faced teams like the Blue Jays and Rays.
They also had a relatively weak schedule to start the season, having 19 of their first 29 games against teams under .500 winning percentage.
Hot starts from players like Vince Valasquez, Connor Joe, Carlos Santana, and McCutchen are great to see, but keeping that success through a 162-game season is another story.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a fun team to watch, and tough to beat when they are playing up to their capabilities. The questions, however, still remain. Are we witnessing a fun, underdog team that can make a playoff run? Or is this just another case of a mediocre team getting a hot start? Only time will tell.