COMMENTARY | The Pittsburgh Pirates have reached the quarter point in a marathon season and find themselves only three wins behind the major league lead. The team has compiled a 23-17 record only a month and a half into the season, a record that is still only good enough to find them in third place in the National League Central.
The team would finish an astounding 24 games over .500 if each quarter of the season played out just like the first one has. Looking at statistics from the first 40 games, it's clear that the team is in a winning position only because of its pitching. The staff has compiled a combined 3.48 earned run average, good for sixth best in the majors. Closer Jason Grilli ranks second in the majors with 17 saves, while the pitching staff overall holds the best stats in holding opponents to a .227 batting average.
All solid numbers, but they come with a price. The team's rotation continues to struggle in terms of eating up innings for the bullpen. Indeed, the Pirates' starting pitchers have thrown 211 innings already in 40 games, which ranks 26th out of the 30 major league teams. It's a good thing the bullpen currently ranks as fifth best in the league with a 2.89 earned run average.
There are other interesting and sometimes head-scratching numbers for the pitchers. They've recorded 330 strikeouts thus far, thanks in part to A.J. Burnett's 72 whiffs, which ranks best in the National League and only eight behind leader Yu Darvish. Grilli also has helped in that department: He leads all major league relievers with 29 strikeouts.
But the pitching staff has also issued 141 walks, which ranks for sixth most in baseball. Those free passes haven't greatly impacted the fact that Pirates pitchers have only given up 148 runs, which ranks in the top five in baseball. Never mind the fact that the pitchers have also given up 39 home runs thus far, which ranks the 16th most in baseball.
All in all, the pitching staff, and specifically the bullpen, has propelled this team to its winning ways. The same can't be said for the team's hitting, which ranks in the middle of the road in most stats but also finds itself lagging towards the back end of the league in some spots.
For instance, the team's combined .244 batting average is good for only 23rd in the league, while their 321 hits ranks 24th. In addition, their 161 runs scored ranks 21st, while their 111 extra-base hits ranks 19th.
However, some numbers are a little more encouraging. The team ranks 15th in baseball with 42 home runs in 40 games, while their 22 stolen bases are good for 12th. Also, the hitters have compiled 66 doubles, which is good for 14th best in the majors. However, their 308 strikeouts also ranks as the 14th most in the league.
There is still a great deal of baseball to be played before the dust settles in late September. No one can predict how this team will respond going forth into the summer, but it's clear that this version of the Pittsburgh Pirates has plenty to be proud of so far.
The offense will inevitably pick up when Andrew McCutchen starts hitting the ball better, and the pitching staff will soon again be infused with fresh hurlers in the form of injured players like Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens.
And don't forget about the clock ticking towards June. It won't be long until fans see Gerrit Cole in a Pittsburgh Pirates' uniform. Sitting at the quarter point in this 2013 season, it's hard not to be optimistic about this team going forward.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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