COMMENTARY | It was only ten days ago that an article on this site predicted the road ahead was bleak for the Pittsburgh Pirates in facing three teams that all made the National League playoffs last year.
What a difference ten days make.
The Pirates went 7-2 during a remarkable homestand that saw them sweep the Cincinnati Reds, split a two game series against the St. Louis Cardinals and take three of four against the best team in baseball in the Atlanta Braves.
The team now sits with a 10-8 record after the first six series of the year, an impressive mark given their strength of schedule. The last nine games, all played within the confines of PNC Park, have been drastically different than the team's first nine, in which they played to a 3-6 record and looked like a poor club.
An offensive resurgence has catapulted the team to its current position. The Pirates hit just two home runs during the first nine games of the season; they hit nine bombs in nine games during the homestand. The listless lineup had at least ten hits only once in the team's first nine games: they accomplished that feat five times during the homestand That is saying a lot considering the pitchers they faced, names like Cueto, Latos, Lynn and Medlen. And let's not forget Paul Maholm, the Atlanta pitcher who hadn't given up an earned run before coming to Pittsburgh.
During the first nine games, the team recorded its highest batting average on April 10 when it hit a combined .153 in a loss to Arizona. In the last homestand, the team's lowest average was .175 in a game and only hit under .200 twice during that span. The batters struck out more than 10 times in four of the first nine games; they haven't done it since.
The offensive breakout is an encouraging sign for a Pirates lineup that is finally starting to come together. Travis Snider has been a doubles machine as of late while Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen continue to be productive. If they all continue through the season, the Pirates could have one of the best outfields in baseball. Not to mention the fact that Pedro Alvarez is finally starting to hit the ball.
That's not to say the team's pitching isn't also responsible for the winning ways. Twice in three games against Atlanta, Pirates pitchers entered the ninth inning with only giving up one hit. The team faced the minimum amount of hitters April 20 when Atlanta's only two hits were wiped out by double plays. Both A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez combined to throw those gems. Combined, the team gave up only three hits in those two games while striking out 18 hitters in the process.
During the nine game homestand, the Pirates recorded two shutouts, two one-run games and one two-run game. Regardless of offensive production, it's hard to lose with that kind of pitching.
So where does that leave the Pirates now? They face another stretch of playing quality teams in series against Philadelphia, St. Louis again and a stint in Milwaukee. They don't have an off day until May 2, at which point the team will have played 19 games in 20 days.
If the team is tired, they have a funny way of showing it. Let's hope the Bucs can take their winning ways into May and continue as one of the hottest teams in the league.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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