Still time for a big Bucs’ run
No matter what you hear on sports talk radio or see on social media sites, the Pittsburgh Pirates season isn’t over yet.
Look at the crowd at PNC Park and there’s more than 27,000 fans there on a nightly basis to show that there is still plenty of baseball to be played.
Right now, even after taking three of four from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Pirates are 13 games out of first place and 4.5 out of a Wild Card spot. They aren’t sitting pretty, but they’re standing in line.
The New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks are also on the outside looking in at one of these coveted playoff spots.
If the season ended today, many ticket holders would want their money back, and the National League Wild Card Game, which the Pirates have had a monopoly on the past three seasons, would pit the Dodgers against the Miami Marlins.
Still, the Pirates have a seat at the table, even before the second half of the season begins.
Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros were both under .500 around the All-Star break and still managed to make the playoffs thanks to a strong showing in the stretch run of the season.
That can happen in Pittsburgh this year. Maybe, it will be more fun that way.
The Pirates currently rank 19th in home attendance for the 2016 season. Yes, that is below average and, yes, maybe it should be higher. However, I’m impressed by the average of 27,225 fans that have flocked to PNC Park in 2016. The Pirates are outdrawing other MLB contending teams like the American League East first place team, the Baltimore Orioles (25,764) and the American League Central first place team, the Cleveland Indians (16,656). In fact, the Indians are 30th out of 30 teams in terms of average home attendance. Believe-land? More like Could-Care-Less-land.
I’m not one to tell people how to spend their money, but Progressive Field should be filled more consistently than it has been so far. I have a feeling the diehard sports fans of Northeast Ohio will be showing up more and more to catch a glimpse of the Indians this summer as they just happen to be the hottest team in baseball.
The Pirates could be catching fire soon, too.
The schedule gets easier for Pittsburgh in the month of July. Each game in June, which saw the Pirates tally a record of 8-18, was against teams with a winning record. Now, as my Bucco Banter co-host Fred Rossano likes to claim, “any team can beat any team on any given day,” but I would much rather be going up against the Oakland Athletics (who the Pirates will play over the weekend), than the Chicago Cubs (who have beaten the Pirates eight times this season).
The Pirates have proven they can beat the best pitchers in the league (Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner), they just need to show they can hold a lead against any team.
The pitching has been the downfall and the inconsistent hitting by Andrew McCutchen and the lineup as a whole has brought the team down even more. In June, Pirates pitchers recorded an earned run average of 5.56, which was second-worst in all of baseball. Meanwhile, the Pirates lineup, which saw as many as seven players hitting above .300 at some point, is now down to just Starling Marte hitting at a .326 clip.
Things have to change. McCutchen’s two-homer night on Saturday may have been what this team needs to turn the corner.
Or, blowing a four-run lead, like the Pirates did on Monday, could be the true story of how this season turns out.
No matter what, the fans should keep coming. That average of 27,000 could easily bump up to 30,000 by September. The Pirates have set and broken an attendance record the past two seasons.
More people are now on board and they are living and dying with each pitch. That’s why this sub-.500 start to the season has been so hard to stomach for many fans.
We’ve been spoiled the past three seasons as the Pirates have legitimately been the second-best team in the major leagues, record-wise. That’s not the case this season, but the potential for a comeback is right there for the rest of the summer.
(Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)