The Pittsburgh Pirates capped off an impressive first half of the season Sunday by defeating the San Francisco Giants 13-2 in front of nearly 29,000 fans at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. After 85 games, the Pirates have a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central with a record of 48-37. The Pirates are 11 games over .500 for the first time since 1992. The Pirates went to the All-Star break in 1992 with a record of 49-39.
Pirates fans had a taste of this one year ago when they headed to the break with a 47-43 record, just one game back of the Reds and Cardinals. The Pirates finished the year with a record of 72-90, it wasn’t .500 but it was progress. It gave the loyal and passionate fan base reason to believe a corner was being turned.
Heading into the off-season, the Pirates and their fans had plenty of ideas how to make this team better. Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit, Ronny Cedeno and Chris Snyder were let go while Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas, Erik Bedard, Casey McGehee and AJ Burnett were welcomed to Pittsburgh.
So exactly how are the Pirates 11 games over .500 at the All-Star break? Here are my positives from the first-half of the season:
- Clint Hurdle: Hurdle is in his second year as manager of the Pirates. Since taking over, he has brought in a sense of confidence not seen in Pittsburgh since the days of Jim Leyland. He expects his team to hustle, believe in themselves and have a winning attitude.
- Andrew McCutchen: Cutch signed a deal in the off-season to stay with the Pirates for the next six years. All he did in the first half was hit .362 with 18 homers and 60 RBI’s. Oh yeah, he is also one the best defensive center fielders in the game.
- Neil Walker: The hometown favorite really turned it on leading into the break. He’s hitting .291 with six homers and 41 RBI’s. Walker never stops working on his defense, spending a lot of time in the off-season with Pirates great Bill Mazeroski.
- Pedro Alvarez: Pedro was the second overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft. He had difficulties adjusting to MLB pitching but it seems as if that may be a thing of the past. At the break he is hitting .231 with 16 homers and 50 RBI’s.
- James McDonald: The Pirates have always had high expectations for McDonald since acquiring him from the Dodgers. This year it all seems to be coming together. He has a 9-3 record with a 2.37 era while striking out 100 and walking only 34.
- AJ Burnett: Perhaps the biggest acquisition by the Pirates in the past 20 years. Not only has he posted a 10-3 record, he has also made a huge difference in the clubhouse. He is having fun playing baseball again and many believe he is a big reason why James McDonald has improved so much.
- Zoltan: ”Dude, Where’s My Car?” Yes, the movie. During an April series in Atlanta the team watched it in the clubhouse. Following a Rod Barajas game-winning homer against the Nationals in May, the team waited for him with their fingers interlocked forming the letter “Z”. It has stuck and brought on a meaning of its own with the club and fans.
- Pitching: The team era is 3.47 at the break. If they can continue pitching like they did in the first half, they will be tough to beat.
- Hitting: After a rough April and May, the hitting came on with a vengeance in June and early July. Similar production from McCutchen, Walker, Alvarez and others is needed.
- Believing: This team has great chemistry on and off the field, it’s imperative that continues. As long as this team believes anything is possible.