Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Good recipe has Bucs cooking up solid start

Balanced lineup, success vs. NL Central among reasons club in mix
Special to MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- Over the winter, a lot of different words were tossed around to describe the Pirates' potential goals for the 2018 season:

Rebuild. Retool. Develop young talent.

MILWAUKEE -- Over the winter, a lot of different words were tossed around to describe the Pirates' potential goals for the 2018 season:

Rebuild. Retool. Develop young talent.

Six weeks into the season, though, there's only one word to describe what the Pirates have actually done: Win.

After taking two of three at Milwaukee over the weekend, the Pirates enjoyed a day off in Chicago ahead of their two-game Interleague set with the White Sox on Tuesday. If any of them happened to glance at the standings, they'd notice that at 19-16, the Bucs have just one victory fewer than the front-running Cardinals, who hold a 2 1/2-game lead over Pittsburgh in a slow-to-develop National League Central race.

The Pirates have played a big role in that jumble so far. They've won all four series against divisional opponents this season -- taking three of four from the Reds, two of three from the Cubs and Brewers and a three-game sweep of St. Louis -- while posting a 10-3 record and outscoring their opponents, 93-47, in those contests.

Pittsburgh went into its off-day tied for the second-best batting average (.254) in the NL, the third-best OPS (.736) and the second-most runs scored (168). Against the division, the Pirates are batting .281 with 20 home runs, 77 RBIs and an .835 OPS.

The starting rotation sits right in the middle of the pack with a 3.95 ERA, but that mark drops to 2.79 when playing NL Central teams.

Video: STL@PIT: Hurdle on Kingham's perfecto bid in 5-0 win

"We talked a lot over the winter about how we improved in our division, but pitching well is always going to set everything else up," manager Clint Hurdle said. "And these series we've played against NL Central teams, we've pitched well. We're showing up with timely at-bats and we're playing solid defense.

"It's a pretty good recipe."

And similar, in some ways, to the one Milwaukee followed a year ago. The Brewers were expected to slog through another year of rebuilding under general manager David Stearns, who helped build the Astros' squad that won the World Series last year.

Instead, Milwaukee defied the experts and led the division for much of the season before faltering down the stretch, just as the Cubs began to shake off an October hangover. The Brewers challenged the Rockies for the second Wild Card spot into the final weekend of the season before finishing a game short of the postseason.

"There can be some common fabric there," Hurdle admitted. "[The Brewers have] done some fantastic things. Last season, they did some nice things over the winter to help their case and to help bolster the strength of their team.

"I think the game has really pushed to developing your own players, No. 1. And then, when you can add, you're looking for an addition that fits into your club, into your model, into your chemistry vault, as well.

"Teams like Milwaukee, teams like Houston have shown the different models. Now Philadelphia is another emerging team that may in that position. Kansas City has done it in the past. We've done it -- we've modeled teams that have done it before us. Imitation is usually the greatest form of flattery."

Count Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell among those not surprised by the Pirates' early success.

Video: PIT@MIL: Kuhl allows 1 hit over 7 scoreless innings

"This team won 90-plus games and was a Wild Card team a couple of years in a row, so they've had a pretty good run there," Counsell said. "They've always had to kind of zig when everybody else thinks they're going to zag, which is very similar to how we operate."

The Pirates' organization drew the ire of the players' union during the winter, as well as agents -- including Scott Boras -- and even some of their own former players after dealing away franchise cornerstones Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

But for teams playing in smaller markets like Pittsburgh, such moves have become commonplace as franchises shift to a developmental approach to roster-building.

It may not be popular, but it's worked before -- just ask the Royals, Cubs and Astros -- and it's working now in Pittsburgh, too.

"There are no rules on how to win," Hurdle said. "A lot of people devise different ways on how to win -- whether it be developing your own talent, whether it be the free-agent market, whether it be payroll and salary ... a lot of different things work. But good baseball works as well."

Andrew Wagner is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates