On Saturday night, In front of the largest crowd in PNC Park history, the Pirates showed the 39,441 people on hand that they were for real. At least, that is what you’re being told.
A series victory over the National League leading Phillies is no easy feat, but before we get carried away, let’s look at a two serious issues about the Pirates and their never ending battle with the “.500” landmark.
Getting there is one thing, but staying there is entirely different. Most recently, when the Bucs hit .500 a few weeks back, a six-game losing streak ensued, and they still haven’t recovered. That kind of post-apocalyptic performance is what leaves many fans skeptical the Pirates will ever be able to pull themselves completely from the drudge of mediocrity.
Even when they get close, as they did in Sunday’s game against the Phillies, things always go wrong.
The starting pitcher Sunday was James McDonald, who had allowed just four earned runs in 18 and two third innings prior to Sunday’s contest. The game ended with McDonald leaving in the sixth inning, his earliest exit in nearly a month. His five walks issued were a season high. All three of his runs were charged to him.
"I lost command, really," McDonald said to Pirates.com. "Didn’t have a good feel, got behind hitters, walked guys. The walks really killed me."
This territory is not unfamiliar for the Bucs, or their fans. Yes, the Pirates pitching actually looks real this year. Yes, the crowd is growing every game and the fans believe. Yes, the players seem to be staying healthy. But no, this isn’t something new.
The Pirates are currently 28-30. In June 2009, they were 35-39 before losing 11 of following 14 and disappearing into the cellar of the MLB. In June of 2008, Pittsburgh was 34-36 and then lost eight of 12.
The theme has been reoccurring since June of 2005, the last time they sat at .500 in the month of June, on June 11.
Sports fans are infamous for their short-term memories, so let’s not forget what the Pirates have done to our hearts in June before we start declaring a franchise turnaround.
With that being said, it is fun to buy into the hype. The truth is that the Pirates are still “in it,” something they can’t always say in June.
Even better for the Pirates’ fan base is that this excitement is coming during a huge 10-game home stand. The Phillies series’ total attendance of 108,807 was the fourth-largest three-game series total in PNC Park history.
Now, the Pirates turn to another NL West powerhouse: the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Arizona (33-27), who fell out of the NL West lead this week, will bring strong competition and hopefully the same energized crowd tonight through Thursday.
Even more, a potential poster-boy for the Pirates’ return to success, Kevin Correia, will be chasing his Major League leading ninth win this season.
Correia’s ERA at home is 2.42, nearly three runs lower than his 5.47 on the road. But don’t be fooled, Correia has only started half the games at home as on the road, and he has racked up seven of his eight wins on the road.
Another guy to keep an eye on is second basemen Neil Walker.
Walker, who leads all NL second-basemen with 39 RBIs, is going to get his second consecutive day off. The Pirates had off on Monday, but Manager Clint Hurdle wanted to give Walker some rest after his strong efforts recently. The second-basemen should return for game two of the series on Wednesday.
The Pirates will miss Walker in game one, as the Diamondbacks Daniel Hudson is set to start. Hudson has been tremendous for the Backs, who have won all eight of his last starts.
Game one of the series is set to begin Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.