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Are the Pittsburgh Pirates a Contender or a Pretender?

by Photo of Thomas Decker

The Pirates finished the first half of the MLB season on top of the NL Central, but can they finally end their playoff drought?

Are the Pittsburgh Pirates a Contender or a Pretender?

In this article…

Usually around this time of year Pittsburgh fans are dusting off their Terrible Towels and preparing for football season. But not this year.

With a 13-2 thrashing of the San Francisco Giants last night, the hometown Pirates finished the first half of the season 48-37 and sit alone atop the National League Central division. Pittsburgh finally has a reason to cheer for their boys in black and yellow; and by that I mean the Pirates not the Steelers or the Penguins. The fans have waited a long time to embrace their hometown ball club.The Pirates are currently in a nineteen-year playoff drought that dates back to the pre-steroid Barry Bonds era in 1992. They've endured everything from bad contracts to bad players and have been a constant at the bottom of the division since their last playoff run.

However, things finally seemed to be looking up in 2011. The Pirates entered the All-Star break in 2011 above .500 for the first time since 1992. They were in first place in August, but collapsed and finished the season with yet another losing record (72-90). Same old Pirates.

So the question remains: Are the 2012 first-place Pirates for real or will they disappoint yet again? 

First, let's look at two reasons for the Pirates' success this year: young star Andrew McCutchen and great pitching. 

McCutchen has emerged this year as a potential MVP candidate. The 25-year-old center-fielder has become one of the top players in baseball and has carried the Pirates offense this season. McCutchen leads the NL in average (.362), is second in hits (112) and fourth in home runs (18). He was named to the NL All-Star team and is participating in the Home Run Derby tonight. The Pirates offense, ranked in the bottom half of the league in hitting, has relied heavily on production from McCutchen. 

Any lack of offense has been made up for by the Pittsburgh pitching staff. The Pirates rank fourth in the NL in ERA and third in opponent batting average. Their ace, James McDonald, has had a breakout season this year with a 9-3 record and a 2.37 ERA. Reliever Jason Grilli (1.87 ERA) and closer Joel Hanrahan (23 saves) have formed a dominant late-inning duo. The Pirates rotation has also benefited from perhaps the biggest surprise in the MLB in this season: A.J Burnett. A disappointment in New York, Burnett has had an outstanding first half in Pittsburgh posting a 10-2 record and a 3.68 ERA.

So with that said, back to the original question: Are the Pirates contenders or pretenders? 

In my amateur opinion, I think it's a little bit of both. I predict the Pirates will make the playoffs, but as a wildcard. The addition of the two wildcard system in the MLB helps the Pirates this season, since I think the Cincinnati Reds will win the Central. The Pirates' first 19 games after the All-Star break are against teams under .500, so they need pick up where they left off winning 10 of their last 12 before the break. For the Pirates to avoid another disappointing season, they need to get help from other players besides McCutchen on offense. It's unclear if Burnett will continue his hot start after the break and the Pirates pitching can't continue to bail out the offense on so many occasions. 

The good news I think the drought will finally end this year for the Pirates and their fans. And on the bright side for Pittsburgh fans, at least the Pirates' success has taken their minds off of Mike Wallace's contract situation. 

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates this summer.

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