COMMENTARY | The first month of a long season is in the books and the Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place in the National League Central. It's hard for fans here to get excited about a team that's suffered horrendous late-season collapses in consecutive years, but the Pirates are doing their best to quell fan discontent with their play on the field. They've won 15 games in April for the first time since 1992, the last time the team finished with a winning record.
It's completely too early to make bold predictions about this team finishing in first place based on the first month of the season, and the team has shown it isn't ready or able to produce for a full 162-game season.
But the first month can and does provide a glimpse into where this team is headed and whether or not fans should start to buy in to the 2013 season. After 26 games, there are plenty of positives and several negatives.
The Pirates faced some tough National League pitching in the month of April and, upon comparing their stats with the rest of the league, it shows.
There's been plenty of timely hitting and clutch bench hitting, but the lineup overall is in need of improvement. The Pirates have scored 102 runs up to this point while only surrendering 98 runs to opponents. However, their run total ranks at 19th best in the major while the team's 2.37 batting average ranks 25th. Their 201 hits rank as 22nd in the league and their 22 home runs rank 21st.
But it's certainly not all doom and gloom with this lineup. The team is tied with the 8th most doubles in the majors with 46 and ranks 10th with 15 stolen bases, all without production from star Andrew McCutchen. Individual statistics paint a prettier picture upon inspection.
Catcher Russell Martin is fresh off being named the National League's most valuable player for last week. He has six doubles and leads the team with 5 home runs, and has thrown out 35 percent of potential base stealers. His early play and production from the catcher's spot is a welcomed addition for fans used to dismal play from behind the plate.
Martin isn't the only bring spot. Starling Marte, Garrett Jones and Travis Snider are all batting above .300, while Snider's seven doubles rank second on the team. Reserve Gaby Sanchez currently has 14 RBI, good for second on the team despite limited playing time.
Even McCutchen, stuck in a prolonged slump and only batting .217 on the year, has 8 doubles and leads the team in that category. There is even a silver lining with Pedro Alvarez, who continues striking out at an unbelievable rate despite having four home runs in the process.
The good news for the offense is that McCutchen will eventually break out of his slump and Neil Walker is close to coming back from a hand injury. Much like last year, Pirates fans continue to look away when Clint Barmes comes to the plate.
But unlike last year, the team has a viable replacement in reserve bench player Brandon Inge, who is currently batting .300. Inge hasn't played much shortstop in his career, but a gaping need there might facilitate more playing time.
Simply put, the Pirates lineup from top to bottom doesn't have any glaring weaknesses outside of Clint Barmes. That's something fans simply couldn't say in years past.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the team's pitching staff, which is primarily responsible for catapulting this team to first place after the first month of the season.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
- Sports & Recreation
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- National League