Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With apologies to Yasiel Puig and the
Cleveland Indians, the biggest story in baseball this season - and we're pretty
far into it - has to be the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Dreadful seemingly forever - the Pirates have had 20 straight losing seasons, a
dubious record for any North American sports team - now everything in
Pittsburgh is suddenly all glitz and gold.
The Pirates reached the midway point of their season last Sunday - 81 games -
with their 51st win (last Saturday, the Pirates won their 50th game, marking
the first time in the 127-year history of the franchise that they'd won 50
before July 1).
Nobody in baseball had more wins at the same point. Nobody.
Even more amazing is the fact that only three years ago, Pittsburgh lost 105
games. Yes, that means the Pirates only won 57 times in 2010. Heck, they're
going to have 60 wins before the middle of this month, and it's only July.
And the string of two decades without being better than .500? At the rate
they're going, they may erase that stigma by mid-August.
The talk in the Steel City is not of ending the losing streak, but of perhaps
winning the National League Central Division. And if not that, at least
snagging one of the wild cards.
Even the Penguins did the Pirates a favor by not winning the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Pens made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before
losing to the Boston Bruins, but the key thing is they lost.
By getting out of the way, so to speak, and not winning another Stanley Cup,
the Pens put the spotlight on the neighboring Bucs earlier, and they've done
nothing but take advantage of it.
Still, there are a lot of cynics out there, and with the Pirates you have to be
one because of their recent history.
As mentioned, the Bucs lost 105 times in 2010.
And two years ago, they had 53 wins through 100 games, but a 19-43 finish to
that season stuck them with 90 losses.
And last year, and the Pirates don't want to hear anything about last year, it
truly looked like the streak was going to end.
Pittsburgh was an impressive 63-47 through 110 games and needed to win just 19
of its final 52 games to finish with the magical 82 wins.
Instead? The Bucs laid dozens of eggs, going just 16-36 over the final two
months to end up with 79 wins.
Call it the curse of Barry Bonds, maybe? He left the Bucs for the San Francisco
Giants in free agency after the 1992 season and then the drought started.
Could another collapse happen? Sure, it could; it just doesn't look that way.
The Bucs have been building and building the right way. They've opened their
wallets as far as scouting goes and are no longer afraid to draft the
"undraftable" player because they've been ponying up to pay guys like Pedro
Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen (and Starling Marte, too).
And they've hit on a ton of picks - the latest, stud starter Garrit Cole, the
top pick of 2011 amateur draft, has been on a role since being promoted to the
bigs last month.
But the biggest thing the Pirates have going for them, besides having better
players now than they've had in 20 years, is that they've got their mojo back.
Winning breeds confidence like nothing else. Just like losing saps it.
Winning also brings out the fans and the Pirates are on track to have their
largest attendance since beautiful PNC Park opened in 2001. Merchandise is
flying off the shelves and going to see the Pirates is now the "in" thing.
It's July in Pittsburgh and that usually means the populace is counting the
days until the Steelers open training camp. Granted, many of them still are,
but the Pirates are making that wait a lot more fun.
The Sports Network