The Pittsburgh Pirates have officially reached the halfway point of the season with a winning record, a chance at the division title, three All-Stars and a newfound confidence.
A few short weeks after speaking openly about their disappointment in the All-Star balloting which left pitcher Joel Hanrahan the only Bucco on an All-Star roster, an injury and a need for a new pitcher brought Andrew McCutchen and Kevin Correia on board.
Now with the team sitting at 47-43 and one game back from the division lead, things look like they’re beginning to fall into place.
“It’s good to be in the race, but we take it game by game,” McCutchen said to Pirates.com. “We have a second half to go. We’re not thinking about anything other than trying to get a win.”
Although the Pirates are answering the questions right, it’s tough to imagine they aren’t starting to feel the pressure. Everyone is waiting for this team to collapse.
They’ve won or split their last six series, they haven’t given a series up at home since May and their last losing streak was June 17-20. These aren’t the Pirates of the past.
Even more encouraging is the next two series the Pirates have after the All-Star break; the Astros and Reds. The Pirates have taken each of their last two series against Houston and swept the Reds in their only series of the year.
If they can manage to repeat these performances, they could be sitting atop the NL Central by the end of next week.
If that day does come, who knows what will happen. For now, however, the Bucs need to start thinking about the plethora of personnel decisions they’ll need to make as the month of July comes to an end.
Primarily, the Bucs will have to make some moves before the trade deadline, which is set for July 31.
General Manager Neal Huntington made it clear he’d be willing to explore trading some prospects in order to make some immediate improvements.
"There’s two reasons you have a deep and talented farm system," Huntington said to Pirates.com. "The first is the direct impact that they’re going to have here in Pittsburgh at the Major League level. The second reason you have a deep and talented farm system is to make trades to add to your Major League club when you don’t have the right piece.”
Despite that, the Pirates need to be wary of trying to acquire things they already have.
The primary needs of the team are a power hitting right-handed batter and another reliever. However, it’s not that simple. A healthy Pirates roster, which they don’t have right now, might provide those things.
Pedro Alvarez, who is in a bit of a slump, could get hot tomorrow and provide the big bat the Bucs need. Joe Beimel, who has been on the disabled list since May with elbow inflammation, looks like a guy who could be a quick fix at the reliever spot.
Then there are Jose Tabata and Ronny Cedeno, both who went down in the last two weeks and could be back after the All-Star break.
The large amount of talent the Pirates have in the doctor’s office could be all they need to start their pennant push.
Yet, Neal Huntington wasn’t shy about the possibility that some players may miss their chance while recovering from injuries.
"That’s the tough part about injuries," Huntington said to Pirates.com. "Guys shouldn’t lose their jobs because they got hurt. But sometimes when guys step in and do a great job, it becomes a factor in the equation."
If I were Huntington, I would be cautious about abandoning veteran players with late-season experience in exchange for talented and raw young athletes, especially at this point in the year.
Look for the Pirates to swap some prospects and money, but I’d be surprised if they parted with any valuable veteran leadership. As soon as July is out, the Bucs will have a final roster for their final push.
And then, the race is on.