Pittsburgh Pirates in the Second Half, Buy or Sell?
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 7/17/2013
Mathematically, the second half of the 2013 Major League Baseball season has come and gone. But from a perception standpoint, the Thursday following the All-Star Game is viewed by many as the official start of the second half of the season. There are plenty of surprises and disappointments so far this year, and nobody has turned more heads than the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates have far and away been the surprise story of the 2013 season. They are 56-37. This is from a franchise that has not had a winning season in 20 years. A $100 wager on the Pirates each game this season would have yielded a $2,350 profit by now. It is nearly an impossible task to imagine the Pirates to continue to return value like that. But can they return any value at all?
Pittsburgh fans will tell you they have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends. The Pirates were .500 going into the 2011 All-Star Game and nearly ended up losing 100 games. The Pirates were 49-40 at last year’s all-star break, and even later in the season the Pirates were 60-44 on Aug. 2. No team in the history of baseball has been as much as 16 games over .500 in August and failed to finish over .500. The Pirates found a way. They went through an epic tailspin, going 19-39 down the stretch to finish below .500 in what is considered the biggest meltdown in Major League Baseball history.
The 2013 season has been played in the shadow of that collapse. Some Pirate fans have been slow to embrace the 2013 group, fearful of another epic collapse. Others contend this season is different. Catcher Russell Martin could very well be the team MVP. He is an immense upgrade over last year’s catcher, Rob Barajas. Just a look at the All-Star Game this season shows a world of difference. The Pirates had five all-stars, the most since 1972.
Is another second-half collapse inevitable? The Pirates have gotten here with pitching. Their team ERA of 3.08 is best in baseball. Their bullpen is best in baseball. Francisco Liriano has discovered his old form and has nine wins, Jeff Locke has a 1.13 ERA; Jason Grilli has 29 saves. And this says nothing about the performance of youngster Gerrit Cole, a May call up, and veteran A.J. Burnett. The Pirates are also doing this without Wandy Rodriguez, who is expected back in August.
The naysayers will point to the offense, though. It ranks 25th in runs per game and 26th in batting average. That offense has been a big reason why the Pirates closed out the first half of the season with a 5-7 record. Leading up to the All-Star Game, the Pirates’ run totals were 2, 2, 1, 6, 4, 6, 1, 3, 1, 1, 5, 3, 4 and 2.
The Pirates desperately need to add a bat to the starting lineup before the trade deadline and a bat or two to the bench, which has been another glaring weakness. But Pirate GM Neil Huntington has gone on record as saying he will not mortgage the future for a one-year playoff push.
Other teams certainly will improve, especially in the highly-contentious NL Central that features the Cardinals and Reds, which the Pirates will have a steady diet of over July, August and September.
While other teams engage in an arms race, the Pirates will likely stand pat or make minor changes. Their trade deadline “splashes” last season were Wandy Rodriguez, Jordy Mercer and Travis Snider. Expect more of the same this year.
On top of that, the oddsmakers continue to make the price on the Pirates steeper. They have been favorites in 14 of their previous 15 games before the all-star break. This is in stark contrast to April when the Pirates opened the season as underdogs in 22 of their first 28 games. On yeah, and this week “Sports Illustrated” decided to put the Pirates on their cover. While the team may have melted down the last two seasons, this season some might just call it a curse.
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