2. Pittsburgh Pirates, 11-5
Trading franchise icon Andrew McCutchen and All-Star pitcher Gerrit Cole should have signaled the start of a rebuild for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it may not have. Widely skewered because their returns for McCutchen and Cole seemed light and focused on lesser-upside players, the Pirates have been one of the best teams in the National League and are doing it with many of the players acquired in the trades.
The Tampa Bay Rays may rue the day they gave up on left fielder Corey Dickerson. He is off to a .351/.377/.581 start with seven doubles and 12 RBI in his first 14 games. Dickerson has always been a streaky hitter, but his hot streak can carry an entire offense for weeks at a time. Colin Moran, who came over from Houston in the Cole deal, has also been productive at third base. A year removed from his PED suspension, Starling Marte has played like an All-Star in center field, while Gregory Polanco has shown bursts of power. The Pirates do not boast many stars in their lineup, but they lead the NL in runs thanks to a solid approach at the plate and an ability to put the ball in play with regularity.
On the mound, young studs Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams have been masterful. The rest of the rotation has not been as good, but the Pirates have scored enough runs to make their overall ERA of 4.50 stand up. The bullpen has been particularly bad, but closer Felipe Vazquez should bounce back as his command straightens out.
Conclusion: The Pirates are definitely playing over their heads right now, and they have taken advantage of a weak schedule to start the year. In all likelihood, Pittsburgh’s hot hitters will regress slightly, while the rotation stays level. A .500 finish feels like a longshot.