Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Remember this date: Nationals and Pirates both above .500

Following tonight's 3-2 win over the lowly Cubs, the Nationals have improved above .500 once again on the season. Perhaps even more remarkably, the Pirates moved into sole possession of 2nd place in the NL Central with a win over the even-more-lowly Astros and it's the latest in the season they've been above .500 since 1992, when they had some guy named Barry Bonds and won 96 games. I'm pretty upset with how terrible the Reds and Brewers are playing and how feeble the NL Central is in general this year, but you can't help but feel good for a team that has been downright embarrassing for nearly 2 decades. The same goes for the Nationals, who were salvaged from the scrap heap in Montreal in 2005, only to be brought to the junkyard of RFK Stadium until obtaining a pristine new ballpark in 2008. The Pirates also have a gem of a stadium in PNC Park, and both of these teams can be proud that they are playing well enough to warrant people filling the seats there.

All 30 teams should go into Spring Training with a goal of reaching the playoffs, but .500 for both of these teams would truly be an amazing accomplishment considering where they have come from. I wrote a post last year about how the Nationals, through high draft picks and keen free agent signings, are on the brink of being contenders in the NL East, and I still firmly believe that despite Ted Lerner throwing away $126 million on a 31-year old outfielder whose best years are behind him. They have a solid rotation that is only going to get better when Steven Strasburg returns from Tommy John rehab. They also have a young bullpen with power arms and 18-year-old phenom Bryce Harper was recently promoted to AA and went 2-3 with an RBI in his debut. Michael Morse is deserving to win the All-Star Final Vote and Danny Espinosa is probably the leader in the clubhouse for NL Rookie of the Year thus far. The Nationals were my NL sleeper pick this year and are showing signs of what they're capable of.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone could have predicted what the Pirates are doing right now. I mean come on, their major offseason acquisitions were Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay, and Kevin Correia - I laughed at the time. But these veterans have been the nucleus of a team of budding stars including Andrew McCutcheon, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata. It seems like they get new contributors every week too - Chase d'Arnaud and Alex Presley were called up last week to fill in for injuries, and Brandon Wood is getting key hits after being released by the Angels. Most importantly, the two things that the Pirates have lacked for 20 years are coming together this season - management and starting rotation. From Clint Hurdle to the front office this team is making good moves for now and for the future, and the pitching is keeping them in games. If they can figure out a way to beat the Brewers and can lock up even one or two of their stars in a team-friendly deal a la Ryan Braun or Evan Longoria, this team will contend for the division next season. Keep an eye on the A's next year, too; the Royals are still a couple years off, they have a gifted lineup but need a legitimate staff ace.

PS - not really related to ball, but I got engaged on Sunday! She's been very supportive of my baseball fetish and I'm very excited to take a few ball trips with her as well as E.

Brewers 45-42, -2.0 (3 v. Diamondbacks, 4 v. Reds)
Reds 43-44, -4.0 (3 @ Cardinals, 4 @ Brewers)
Twins 38-46, -7.0 (3 v. Rays, 4 @ White Sox)

Erik - 10
Peter - 27

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