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Pittsburgh Pirates coming alive and more

The Pittsburgh Pirates always seem to fly under the radar. Maybe it is because the team was so bad for so long prior to the last two seasons. Maybe t is because Pittsburgh is not a major market and the franchise doesn’t have any outspoken players who garner huge headlines. Regardless, Pittsburgh is proving to be one of the better organizations in baseball, something few people under 30 years old ever thought they would say.

At 29-24, Pittsburgh is sitting six games behind the incredible St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. Yet, if the playoffs were to begin today, the Pirates would be the host team in the Wild Card game, the same spot they have found themselves in each of the last two years, splitting the contests.

With a +41 run differential, Pittsburgh is proving to have a quality rotation and a potent offense. Of course, you can’t talk about the Pirates without getting into the top of center fielder Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen is a former NL Most Valuable Player and is playing solid ball again, leading the team with a .293 average along with seven home runs and 34 RBI. The emerging star of the Pirates is Starling Marte, who is finally putting together all of his tools. Marte is only hitting .254 but has mashed 10 home runs and 34 RBI.

The rest of the lineup also gives some punch throughout the order. Neil Walker is sporting a .324 on-base percentage with 20 RBI, while slugger Pedro Alvarez has swatted nine homers with 27 RBI. Last year’s All-Star utility man Josh Harrison has been coming on recently, getting his average to .256 with 18 RBI.

On the mound, Gerrit Cole has established himself as the ace of the staff. Cole, who for years has been seen as the next great hurler in Pittsburgh, has finally become what so many envisioned. Cole is 8-2 with 16 walks and 79 strikeouts, leading to a 1.90 ERA and over 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Veteran A.J. Burnett is also pitching like a potential All-Star. Burnett, who almost retired this offseason, has a 6-1 mark with a 1.22 WHIP and a 2.20 ERA. In the bullpen, Tony Watson has been shutting down opponents in the eighth inning with 13 holds and a 1.50 ERA, while Mark Melancon has amassed 16 saves and a 2.45 ERA.

Giants in a skid

The San Francisco Giants are the defending champions and are still in decent shape at 30-25, second in the NL West, However, San Francisco has lost five straight games including a sweep at home at the hands of the Pirates. The Giants are only 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, so the situation is far from dire. Still, the champs would do well to get things rolling before the streak really gets out of control.

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