Despite being outscored 75-54 in their first 12 games, the Pirates not only have a winning record, but they are in second place in the NL Central, a game behind the Cardinals.
Not only that, but they are one of the only two teams in the division with a winning record. They spot the opposition 21 runs, but they won their first two home series — the first time since 1992 — after sweeping the Reds over the weekend. Remember, 1992 was the last time the Pirates finished a season over .500, so this is a situation worth some attention, if not optimism.
Pittsburgh, it seems, has finally found a formula for winning with a small market team. Forget small ball; forget trading for prospects. What the Pirates have figured out is to lose by big numbers when you lose and win by a run or two when you win. That way you can give up 75 runs in 12 games and still come out smelling like petunias.
When the Pirates lose, they really lose! The Dodgers beat them 10-2. Arizona walloped them 9-1 and 15-6. The Giants routed them 9-3 and 6-0. On the other hand, in games won by two runs or less, the Pirates are 5-0. Two of the games against the Reds this weekend were one-run wins in the Pirates' last at bat. Keep the other guys close and the team has a shot. General manager Neal Huntington is quoted as saying: "When our pitchers are giving us a chance to win, we've won."
A one-run win is worth as much in the standings as a ten-run blowout. Nine runs scored in a ten-run loss are nine wasted runs. Does this not suggest a recipe for success: when the pitchers keep the team in the game, hitters score just enough; when the pitcher gets blasted, the hitters save it for another day.
And while you're saving, you might as well save the relief pitchers too; no point tiring arms in a losing cause.
There is no question Huntington has built a team with this recipe in mind. He's got the starting pitchers to get blasted: Charlie Morton has a 13.50 ERA and Daniel McCutchen's ERA is 14.73. He's got the starting pitching to keep the team in the game: Zach Duke, 2.37, Ross Ohlendorf, 3.60 (although he's on the 15-day disabled right now), and maybe Paul Maholm at 4.58. He's got hitters who manage to leave a ton of runners on base in the blowouts, but somehow get them driven in in the close games. Manager John Russell's got his power hitter, the pitcher, hitting in the eight hole, a strategy that flies in the face of baseball convention. Although, to give credit where it is due, the strategy seems so far to be working. He's got relief pitching for the blowouts, and hopefully he's got relief for the nail biters.
With wisdom and baseball acumen like this in the front office, how can Pittsburgh fans stop visions of 1992 and sugar plums from dancing in their heads? You have to wonder why it took the Pirates braintrust 18 years to think of it. We're not exactly talking about Moneyball innovative thinking.
Here in Pittsburgh a baseball team with a winning record is nothing to sneeze at. Hell, a team that doesn't lose 90 games is one to crow about, never mind sneeze at. As Milwaukee comes in for the third home series of the season, let's hope the Pirates keep it up. We're looking either to win 4-3 or lose 10-1. Win close; lose large. Never mind "We are family." Never mind, "The Lumber Company." Win close; lose large is the new Pirates slogan.
Epilogue: The first game against the Brewers is in the books. Charlie Morton pitched. His ERA is now 16.55. Pirates go down 8-1. We got them right where we want them.