I will admit that in the early part of this game, my attention was split between the Pirates and the World Cup. For the first few innings, every time I looked up I felt like I saw the Mets hit a deep fly ball to Starling Marte in center field, and so it took me until maybe the fifth inning or so to realize that Edinson Volquez was actually pitching really well this afternoon. In fact, Volquez pitching really well is happening more often than Volquez pitching really poorly. In his last eight starts, he’s given up two runs or fewer in six of them, and really, only one of those starts was really, really poor. His six shutout innings today make it twice in his last four starts that he’s blanked his opponent. Today was one of his better strikeout days in the last month or so; he struck out seven Mets in his six innings, he walked one, he scattered eights hits, and he threw 70 of his 98 pitches for strikes. I’ll have to take a deeper look at the PitchFX data this week to see what he’s doing differently and how it matches up with my pre-season post about his stuff and what the Pirates might do to fix him, but for now I’ll just note that he was really excellent today and that it’s happening enough lately that I’m starting to think that the Pirates really have made some progress with him.
Volquez’s strong start wasn’t the only good news for the Pirates in this game. Pedro Alvarez was 2-for-4 with a double and a homer, which gives him two home runs in the last week. His previous home runs before this last week were on June 3rd and May 29th. Those two hits today give Pedro a season line of .241/.330/.416. That’s obviously still low on the slugging side, but his much higher OBP this year puts him just about in line with his offensive production in the two years before this year (his wRC+ is now 110 on the year, it was 112 in 2012 and 111 in 2013). I’ve been writing about Alvarez a lot lately, and so obviously I think this mini-power surge is promising; I think that maybe we’re starting to see signs that it’s possible for his power to come around while maintaining his newfound plate discipline. If he can do that, the whole National League is going to turn into a batting practice machine for him in the second half of this season.
Really, it’s the thought that Volquez and Alvarez are starting to come around that makes this 42-40 record feel like it might be solid footing for the Pirates going forward. I’m going to write more about this tomorrow, but the team ended up with a really strong record in June, despite a seemingly endless string of hurdles (no pun intended). 42-40 is really only a good record for a baseball team if you have reason to think that the team is going to get stronger in the days ahead. I don’t have a crystal ball and so that’s something that’s hard to say for sure, but I think it’d be pretty easy to make that case for this Pirate team.