If you look at the position in the National League Central of Major League Baseball, you may have to do a double take. That’s because the Pittsburgh Pirates are alone in first place. That’s right, the Buccos are off to their best start since 1992, a year they were a playoff team.
The season is off to such a good start for the Bucs that manager Derek Shelton received a contract extension the weekend of April 21. As of this writing, the Pirates have won seven in a row, their longest streak since 2018 when they won 11 straight games. Their 16-7 record on April 24 puts them a half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last season, Pittsburgh finished last in the division, losing 100 games and finding itself 31 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. In the offseason, they brought home former bootleg Andrew McCutchen and he’s partly the reason for the Bucs’ resurgence.
On April 24, McCutchen saw his average hit a healthy .275 with four home runs, four doubles, three stolen bases, and striking out just 13 times in 69 at-bats. It doesn’t hurt to have Bryan Reynolds in the lineup, who was hitting .294 when the Pirates took first place by adding five home runs.
In right field, Joe Connor is hitting a crisp .357 in 18 games played with six doubles and a .643 slugging percentage. Reynolds leads the team with 18 RBIs, but veteran Carlos Santana isn’t far behind with 12, matching Jack Suwinski’s total.
But the pitching has been key in leading Pittsburgh to the top spot in the division, as it has been outstanding. Johan Oviedo has a 2-1 record at the time of writing with an excellent 2.22 ERA. Mitch Keller is 2-0 and has struck out 30 batters in 29.2 innings. Vince Velasquez has K’d 27 batters in 26.1 innings of work. Oviedo? 25 attempts by opposing hitters in 24.1 innings pitched.
David Bednar saved eight games in relief, but the real test will come in the last full week of April, when Pittsburgh hosts the tough Los Angeles Dodgers. The only thing that will make Pirates fans nervous and wary is that there have been past seasons where the Pirates got off to a solid start, but then as the season progressed, the Bucs faded.
Could this be the year the Pirates can keep up their good game? This article finds the Pirates sixth overall in hitting and tenth in pitching. Consistency will be the key and manager Shelton will have to keep everyone focused and if he can do that and lead his team to the postseason then he has a good chance of being named manager of the year and for McCutchen, he could be a surefire candidate for Returning Player of the Year if he finishes up with some solid numbers.