For once, the Pittsburgh Pirates look like a confident and consistent team that is poised to play in the postseason for the first time since 1992. Although the Pirates have typically choked away these chances in years past (particularly last season when they entered the All Star break 48-37 only to finish the season with an unimpressive 79-83 record), their dominant bullpen has given the city of Pittsburgh a reason to be highly optimistic.
Despite the fact that the Pirates have a lackluster offense at best (they are 26th in the league in runs and batting average), their pitching has been the reliable back bone that allows this team to not only compete valiantly, but to also win games on a regular basis. Although the Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett has been at best an average pitcher in the past, he has vastly improved his skill set and impressively has lowered his ERA from 4.01 to 3.06. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this surging bullpen. Everyone from relief pitcher Jeanmar Gomez (his career average ERA is 4.68, he has since lowered it to 2.72) to Francisco Liriano (career average ERA is 4.20, he has since lowered it to 2.00) have gone from being inconsistent liabilities to exceptional superstars who can utilize their vast repertoire at any moment. However, while these pitchers have gone above and beyond to make sure their team wins game in and game out, one pitcher in particular has been the crux of this teams monumental success.
The Pirates closer, Jason Grilli, has transformed completely from a finicky pitcher into a stone cold killer with an immense chip on his shoulder. Out of the Pirates entire bullpen, Grilli has not only improved the most in terms of his ERA (His career average is 4.14, he has since lowered to 1.99 on the season) he also has been the most crucial reason for how the Pirates are able to win so many close games. Like Jim Johnson, who last season helped the Orioles go 29-9 in one run games, Grilli is at his best when the pressure is on to put the dagger in the heart of the opposing team. In his last ten games, Grilli has successfully closed out six one run games while only blowing one save against the Cincinnati Reds, which was his only blown save of the season.
Although the Pirates bullpen has been the beating heart of this franchise and the reason for their prominent success this season, the Pirates offense is beginning to find its groove as well. Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is clearly the offensive leader for this Pirates team as he boasts an impressive .302 batting average along with nearly 50 RBI’s to flesh out his offensive resume. This is not to say that the rest of the Pirates dugout is completely worthless. Despite the fact that the typical batting average hovers somewhere near .250 or lower, some of this teams younger stars are slowly but surely realizing their full potential. Right fielder Jose Tabata and left fielder Starling Marte appear to be the youthful and rejuvenating weapons this team needs as they both have exceptional batting averages that currently stand at .293 and .291 respectively. While the same can’t be said for the rest of the Pirates infielders, these young outfielders have provided enough needed assistance to allow their bullpen to carry them the rest of the way.
In the end, while the Pirates offense lacks the power and overall consistency that high octane teams such as the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals have become known for, their nearly flawless bullpen has sky rocketed this team to an entirely new level of well earned success. If the Pirates can attempt to emulate some of the intricacies of teams with stellar offenses, this team has a chance to not only make the post season in style, but to also go deep in the playoffs with an unstoppable squad that prides itself on well balanced team dynamics and not just a sensational bullpen.