The Pittsburgh Pirates were one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central going into the 2011 All-Star game. They were one game in first place going into the 2012 All-Star game. It was the first time the team was in first place at the All-Star break since 1997.
The 2011 Pirates surprised the baseball world by being so close to first place and having a record above .500. However, their first half success was trumped by a miserable second half. The questions linger. Will they end with a winning record in 2012? Will they make the playoffs?
The 2012 Pirates have relied on stellar pitching as much as the 2011 Pirates did.
The 2011 Pirates pitching staff posted a 3.44 team earned run average (ERA), an opponent batting average of .256, and 1.32 walks plus hit per inning pitched (WHIP) before the All-Star break, ranking eighth in the Major Leagues. Their batting ranked 22nd overall.
The 2012 Pirates pitching staff ranked fifth overall going into the All-Star break with a 3.52 team ERA, a .244 opponent batting average, and a 1.27 WHIP. Their batting ranked 21st overall.
So, the Pirates are in a similar situation going into the second half of the season this year as they were last year.
The 2011 Pirates pitching staff did not hold up. Pirates pitchers posted a 4.78 ERA, a .288 opponent batting average, and a 1.53 WHIP in the second half of the season. Their pitching ranked 27th in the second half. Their hitting did not improve either.
They ended the 2011 season 24 games behind the first place Brewers with a 72-90 record. They have not had a winning record since they won the division in 1992.
Statistics show that the Pirates have a 73.2 percent chance of making the playoffs this season. The addition of a second wild card slot increases their chances.
They have 74 games left to play – 36 away and 38 at home. Forty-eight of those games are against teams in the NL Central. They have a 21-12 record against the NL Central so far. It is a make or break schedule for the Pirates. They can dramatically increase their division lead or they can dramatically fall out of contention as they did last year.
Their pitching staff is not the same as it was in 2011. A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard replaced the spots left by Paul Maholm departure and Charlie Morton’s injury. Bedard and Burnett have posted higher ERAs and opponent batting averages in the second half of the season than in the first half of the season for the past three seasons. Maholm and Morton have similar statistics.
Therefore, it may take more than center fielder Andrew McCutchen to power the team to the playoffs. McCutchen led the league in batting average at the All-Star break. However, he has a history of offensively declining in the second half of the season. Last year, he hit .291 in the first half and .216 in the second half. His career batting average in the first half is over 20 points higher than his career second half batting average. His career on-base percentage is also lower in the second half than in the first half.
The Pirates will certainly be busy at the non-waiver trade deadline. They have been linked Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton, Padres third baseman Chase Headley, Padres right fielder Carlos Quentin, and pitchers Zach Greinke, Cole Hamels, and Jason Vargas, to name a few.
The Pirates are one of the many teams that have surprised analysts and fans this season. They are going to have to continue their success against NL Central teams, keep their pitching staff as consistent as it was in the first half, and trade for a decent hitter or two to increase their chances of ending the season above .500 and making the playoffs.