When the Pirates first started to crest in late May and early June, I talked quite a bit about the virtues of just taking the field and beating bad baseball teams. The Pirates won a lot of baseball games against good and bad teams both from the end of May until the All-Star break, but a key factor in their emergence was that after they dipped to 20-24 on May 23rd, they swept the Cubs, Royals, and Astros (four games) before the break. Simply put, the Pirates took care of business in the early part of the 2012 season and that has a lot to do with their status as playoff contenders.
There have been a lot of disconcerting things about the way the Pirates have played lately, but seeing yesterday's game in person kind of put things over the top for me. The futility of the Astros was apparent from the stands, but the Pirates couldn't do anything against them. As I wrote this morning, I've been holding out hope for a little while now that the abudance of Astros and Cubs and Mets on the Pirates schedule will keep playoff hopes alive past their expiration date in Pittsburgh; yesterday kind of rained on that parade for me.
At the very least, the Pirates managed to break out of their funk and restore the idea that we, as Pirate fans, should be doing more than desperate hoping that they get to 82 wins this season. It's true that Brock Holt (who had four hits tonight after just two in his first three career games) and Andrew McCutchen (4-for-4, three of the Pirates' four RBIs) did most of the heavy lifting tonight and that besides those two the offense didn't have a great night (the non-Holt/McCutchen Pirates had just two hits), but the bottom line is that the offense put some runs on the board and Wandy Rodriguez made his second straight strong start and the Pirates easily beat a bad baseball team. That in itself is somewhat reassuring after the last few days of Pirate baseball.
When my dad dropped me off at the airport this morning, I told him that what I really hoped for was that the Pirates would win enough games from the Astros and Cubs that they would still be in the playoff race in a week's time. That's a considerable downgrade from what I was hoping for at this time last month, but it's still something. The reality is that the longer any team stays viable in a playoff race, the longer anything is possible. The Pirates have played terrible baseball lately, and it's been awful and hard to stomach and disappointing and disconcerting and a million other things, but they're still at a point where a five game winning streak probably puts them right back into a playoff spot. Tonight is one game. I suspect that the other four won't be as easy. Then again, nothing ever is for the Pirates.