“Helloooooooo,” the blogger shouted from the brink of oblivion.
I apologize for my lack of blogging lately, but I’ve hit a critical mass of Things Happening outside of baseball combined with a Pirate team that is really hard to talk about due to an acute case of Cub Poisoning. I had a long drive yesterday afternoon that perfectly coincided with a Pirate double-header, and in listening to the Pirates’ mediocre pitching staff shut down the Mets, a thought coalesced in my head:
I think that the Pirates are going to end the 2016 season as the National League’s second best team. Maybe in record, maybe not in record, but surely in spirit. This Pirate offense is good. Yesterday they wore out two excellent Met starters quickly under a circumstance in which doing so was hugely beneficial to them, and whenever the pitching staff is able to imitate a competent pitching staff, the win floats up like a hot air balloon. Jameson Taillon is starting tonight and while this particular appointment may be short-term (it would make sense for the Pirates to demote someone after today’s game due to the double-header/bad travel schedule), he’ll be here for good before long. Both Jon Niese and Jeff Locke resemble decent starters lately, and while Locke’s success is always ephemeral, Niese’s ground ball rate has been impressive of late and his home run problem appears to be normalizing. I think he’ll likely settle in as a better pitcher than a lot of us anticipated after his first few starts. Juan Nicasio’s stuff remains an excellent pending addition to a bullpen that needs him. I think a Cole/Taillon/Niese/Liriano/Locke rotation with both Liriano and Locke put on the clock by Kuhl and Glasnow could be a vast improvement over the rotation that hobbled through May, even with only one person switched. I think that with Jared Hughes seemingly back on track and Nicasio in the bullpen, that Tony Watson can find time to right himself out and Neftali Feliz and Mark Melancon can emphatically end games like they did last night.
I suppose that the statement that I think the Pirates are/will soon be the second best team in the National League could be read as an implicit defense of the front office, but it is not that. It’s an observation. This is a Pirate team that is answering the big questions I had over the winter (Is Kang OK? How good can Polanco be? How will Niese fit in? How will Taillon look after so much down time?) so flawlessly that they can compensate for the new questions arising (What’s wrong with ‘Cutch? Is Liriano toast?). It’s a team that obviously hasn’t quite assumed its final form, but whose final form is so close and so obvious that it’s hard not to be excited.
The problem is the Cubs. I think that the Pirates can beat the Cubs three times in five games or four times in seven games, but I don’t think that they can make up 8 1/2 over 104. The Cubs are 40-17, fer goodness sake. When you go 40-17 in a video game, you crank up the difficulty because life is way too easy. I wish the Pirates had handled the Nicasio spot of the rotation better, I wish they hadn’t taken so much for granted when it came to Locke and Niese and Caminero and Hughes over the winter, and I still can’t really do much other than look at 40-17 in awe and think, “Maybe none of that is going to matter.”
And so this is where we are: the Pirates went through a miserable spell against the Rangers, Marlins, and Angels. They lost seven of nine and made it seem like their bullpen might not ever hold a lead again. And then they beat the Mets twice in a double-header, went right back to the top of the wild card standings, and are starting an incredibly talented pitching prospect tonight. This season is not what we wanted, but this is a very good Pirate team, and it’s one that’s about to get a whole lot better.
This is why I don’t have much to say: we all spent a summer last year considering a really great Pirate team that was likely bound for a one-off Wild Card, and we’re going to do it again this summer. I would tell you that I don’t have much doubt that the Pirates will make the Wild Card Game this year, no matter what the playoff odds currently say. That’s a pretty helpless feeling to have with 104 games left on the schedule, because none of them will mean anything in comparison to the 105th.
Anyway: Taillon and Syndergaard tonight, which is a great night for baseball no matter what else. I want the Pirates to win because I always want the Pirates to win, but I’m already freaking out over the reverse-jinx of the Pirates carrying a two-year winning streak against the Mets into the Wild Card Game. So it goes for the second best team in the NL Central, I suppose.