The Pittsburgh Pirates' hot start to the 2009 season can largely be credited to the amazing work from a pitching staff that was worst in the league in ERA last season. They lead the league in shutouts with four which is just two less than the rest of the teams in the National League combined.
The pitching staff may have to be even better than they've already been in order to maintain the level of success they have gotten used to this season. The reason for this is because Ryan Doumit will be out for at least two months with a fractured wrist. Doumit is arguably the best all around hitter in the Pirates' lineup and by far the best clutch hitter they have. He will be replaced largely by Jason Jaramillo who provides little more than good defense.
Doumit hit .410 last season with runners in scoring position. He is also a switch hitter which provided the Pirates with their only power threat from the right side of the plate. The only right hander left with threatening power is Craig Monroe who doesn't play every day.
The Pirates will be relying on Adam LaRoche to fill the offense that Doumit will be leaving behing. His unusually hot start this season helps his cause but he will have to prove to be a threat against lefties. Manager John Russell plans on using LaRoche in the cleanup role against lefties which can be a hit or miss scenario. The only other option would be to play Monroe against every lefty and have him bat cleanup.
Run production could be an issue for the next two months but if it will be you would never know by the Pirates sweep of the Florida Marlins over the past three days. The Marlins came into the series with the best record in baseball and left being swept by a team that hasn't had a winning season in 16 years.
The pitching staff can be largely thanked for the sweep as well as the rest of the wins. Paul Maholm has been brilliant. Every Pirate fan had to feel good today when Nyjer Morgan singled in the go ahead run to give Maholm the win when he had a bad day by his standards by giving up four runs on eight hits in six innings. Ian Snell has been solid ever since his shaky first start but consistency is always a question mark with him. Consistency also hasn't been a friend of Zach Duke who struggled in his last start after being brilliant in his first two including the home opener. Lastly, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens are making Neil Huntington look brilliant. Both of them have had solid starts while Damaso Marte has an ERA in the 20's and Xavier Nady is out for the season for the Yankees.
The bullpen has been overshadowed by the starters but they have also performed quite well. Outside of one bad performance by Sean Burnett and another by Craig Hansen the bullpen has been near unhittable including Jesse Chavez who has been a pleasant surprise and seems to have turned into a favorite of Russell's coming out of the bullpen.
Every loyal Pirate fan knows that they are infamous for getting our hopes up in April and then going down the tubes after that. Losing Doumit for two months puts the Buccos in a good position to go on a big losing streak but with continuous consistent starting pitching, the Pirates could make a run at the ever elusive .500 record.