Let's take one second and breath this in: it's before noon on Memorial Day. There are six teams in baseball right now with 30 wins or more. One is the Yankees. Another is the best franchise in the American League of the last few years, the Texas Rangers. The Braves, who became a serious National League contender over the winter after adding the Upton brothers to a team that was already very good. The Reds, one of the pre-season NL favorites, have 31 wins. The Cardinals, who seemed poised to start another run of dominance after winning last year's wild card game along with the best farm system in the galaxy, have 32 wins. And the sixth team is the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates spent most of April beating teams that no one expected them to beat, and now they've spent most of May blitzing bad teams. They've won two series in a row against their long-time tormentors from Milwaukee, including this last weekend series against Miller Park. There's a lot of baseball ahead of us, but to this point this has been one of the most enjoyable runs of Pirate baseball in 20 years. There's nothing wrong with taking some time to appreciate that.
The best part about the first part of the season, of course, is that now the Pirates have a stretch of games against good teams and instead of dreading them, I'm genuinely interested to see how the Pirates stack up. They have four games this week against the Tigers (two in Detroit then two in Pittsburgh), followed by the Reds and home and the Braves on the road. This is a huge stretch of baseball, even if it's only late May/early June. We're going to learn a lot about the Pirates in the next ten days, I think.
Before today's game, the Pirates put Jose Tabata on the 15-day DL, optioned Bryan Morris to Triple-A, and moved Jeff Karstens onto the 60-day DL. They've called Josh Harrison up to replace Tabata and the the Morris and Karstens moves make room for Mike Zagurski. Zagurski has been dominant with Indianapolis this year with 37 strikeouts in 21 innings to go with his 2.14 ERA, but he's 30 years old and his big league career has been pretty terrible to this point. I watched him pitch twice in Spring Training, I think (which, of course, deserves the grapefruit sized grain of salt that comes with that kind of statement) and he was struggling badly. The reality is that Zagurski has been striking out Triple-A hitters with great frequency since 2010 and that's never translated into big league results before. I'm not going to bat for Bryan Morris here, who's been largely uninspiring in his short time as a Pirate, and I don't want to really question the front office on their bullpen-gem-unearthing-chops, but I think it's fair to be pretty wary of Zagurski until he gives us reason to feel otherwise.
I want to note that the Pirates now have six lefties on their pitching staff (Rodriguez, Liriano, and Locke in the rotation, Zagurski, Watson, and Wilson in the bullpen) and so I'm sure that at some point in the next week some scuffling right-handed pitcher is going to be left in the game to face Prince Fielder or Joey Votto in a huge spot and I am going to absolutely lose my mind. So it goes.
Finally, let's get to today's game. Francisco Liriano is starting for the Pirates and he's been really excellent in his three starts as a Bucco, but today he'll face an American League lineup that's incredibly familiar with him. This makes me pretty nervous. He'll face Justin Verlander today. In his first seven starts this year, Verlander looked like a modern day Bob Gibson. In his last three starts, he's only thrown 12 2/3 innings, he's given up 22 hits and 17 runs (16 earned) and two home runs and eight walks. He's a human being. He's going to get his strikeouts today, but I think the Pirates have a chance to make him throw a ton of pitches early on and maybe even put some runs up against him. Here's hoping.
First pitch today is at 1:08, because the Tigers have to be difficult like that.