July 1 represents the halfway point in the MLB season and there is something very unfamiliar about this point in the season this time around. The Pittsburg Pirates are the best team in baseball. They currently sit atop the National League Central at 51-30 and are current owners of a nine game winning streak. They are also one of only two teams in the National League that are over .500 on the road. That stat alone tells you that they are legitimate as winning on the road is always significant factor for any team’s success in postseason play.
This doesn’t discount at all the possibility of a second half meltdown for the Pirates, as they only lead the infamous Cardinals by two games in division play. Despite mediocre offensive numbers, a dynamic pitching staff and a consistent bullpen has been the difference for the season’s best team.
The question at hand from here is an obvious one: are the Pirates a legitimate championship contender? They are ranked number one in the MLB in ERA (3.11) and opponent’s batting average (.225), which are two of the most significant stats come October baseball. It is a rarity to see games in the postseason end with the winning team scoring more than a handful of runs at the most. The quality and diversity of a club’s starting pitching in tandem with the consistency of a bullpen has the potential to win games when it matters most.
Jeff Locke is a fantastic left-handed pitcher with a 2.06 ERA to go towards his 7-1 record. He is your typical high velocity fastball thrower with an effective change and curve. Locke is the perfect representative of the Pirates of the whole due to the fact that he places second to last in salary on the roster. The Pirates as a team rank 19 out of 30 in the MLB. They pay less for their players than the majority, but they are winning more often than all of them.
For a franchise that hasn’t had the League’s best record after June 28 since 1991 when Barry Bonds led them to a division title, this has to be at least a little bit of a big deal. The second half of the season is a revealing one as the League’s best make themselves known. The list grows smaller and smaller as the season declines. Time will tell if the Pirates will be a part of that list.