The Pittsburgh Pirates picked up win No. 70 on Thursday afternoon, with a 5-4 come from behind walk off win over the Miami Marlins to complete a three game sweep. Russell Martin’s pinch-hit single with two outs in the bottom of 10th inning won it for the Pirates scoring Josh Harrison. Martin’s three walk off hits are tied for the MLB lead.
Boasting the best record in baseball at 70-44, the Pirates collected their 28th comeback win of the season on Thursday.
“We’re like the Miami Heat,” Andrew McCutchen told reporters afterwards. “We play better in the second half of games.”
A season best 26 games above .500, the Pirates have moved four games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the NL Central.
Just 12 wins away from officially clinching their first winning season in over 20 years, the Pirates posting their first winning season since 1992 is no longer the storyline. The storyline for the rest of the regular season is the Pirates claiming the NL Central division crown.
Winning the top wildcard spot is nothing to be disappointed in but the play in game is a crapshoot and while the Pirates are a better team than the Reds, a one game play in game with the Reds possibly starting Johnny Cueto (if healthy) who dominates the Pirates, could be daunting for the Bucs.
I’m a believer in expectations changing as a season progresses and the expectations for the Pirates now is winning the division.
Numbers like the Pirates .228 batting average with RISP remain a concern but the ability to have two potential playoff aces in A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano has the Pirates evolving into a World Series contender.
The burning question, though, for the Pirates is who emerges as a legitimate No. 3 starter down the stretch and into the post-season.
Jeff Locke has regressed coming out of the All-Star break, the Pirates don’t know what they are going to get from start to start with Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole is still going through some growing pains.
That’s why Wandy Rodriguez getting back to full health and form is so important to the Pirates doing something special in the post-season and why Rodriguez’s potential return is more important than the Pirates getting back Jason Grilli who is on track to return by early September, if not sooner.
A healthy Rodriguez in October could be what puts the Pirates past the surging Dodgers who look like the best team in the National League or the Atlanta Braves.
When it comes to Rodriguez there’s a sense of optimism he could return in time for a few starts before the post-season, but Rodriguez is still at least four to six weeks away from fully building his arm up. He’s not yet at the point in his rehab where the Pirates can count on him.
“Wandy won’t be a Sept. 1 add,” manager Clint Hurdle said on Thursday. “The progression he has to go through, to build up to at least five innings and 80 pitches, will take us past that date.”
As for All-Star closer Jason Grilli, the Pirates feel he could be back as early as September 1st. “He could be ready by September 1, ” Hurdle said. “He’s got to build up only to one inning.”