It's June 1, and the National League has already become pretty clearly delineated. There are seven teams currently at least four games over .500. The only real surprise team in the group is Arizona, which sits atop the NL West with a record of 30-25.
If you wanted to sift this a little further it separates nicely. The top three teams (the Phillies, Marlins and Cardinals) are all at least nine games over .500. The other four (the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Braves and Giants) are either four or five games over.
The other nine teams in the National League have records of .500 or worse. This group divides pretty easily as well. Cincinnati sits alone at .500. The Reds would be solidly in the upper half if they weren't 1-5, at home no less, against the Pirates. The Pirates are the only other team in the National League within three games of .500 either above or below. That seems rather odd, so let's leave the Reds in their own group right at .500.
The next group of four is led by the Pirates, three games under .500, and contains the Mets, Rockies and Dodgers, who are all four games under. The last group consists of the Nationals, Cubs, Astros and Padres, who are all at least seven games under.
If you follow the Pirates this is what is interesting. The Bucs are 3-13 against those top seven teams and 22-15 against everyone else (this includes 2-1 against Detroit in interleague play). Unlike last year, the Pirates have done a very good job of taking care of business against bad teams. But they're getting pounded by good ones.
In June, the Pirates play the Phillies three times and the Diamondbacks three times, and they have a series against each the Indians, Red Sox and Blue Jays in interleague play. 15 of the 27 games they play in June are against "good" teams. The other twelve are against the Mets (6), Astros (3) and Orioles (3).
It is also worth noting the Pirates have played 30 or their first 53 games on the road. After winning only 17 games on the road all of last year, the Pirates are currently a massively-improved 16-14 away from home. This imbalanced schedule will start to even out in June as the Pirates play 16 of their 27 games at PNC Park, where they are only 9-14 thus far, but were 40-41 last year.
Stating the obvious, the Pirates need to play better at home if they want to have any contact with the top 7-8 teams in the NL, three of whom are in their own division, the rest of the season. And they need to start beating good teams. The upcoming 10-game homestand is the Pirates' longest of the season and it opens with three against the Phillies and three against the Diamondbacks, two of the good teams.
The team's 18-year losing streak has been well-documented. So has the fact that during this century the latest they have even had a .500 record was June 11, 2005 when they stood at 30-30. At the end of the coming homestand, the Pirates will have played 65 games. At that point we should have a pretty good idea if this current team can match or exceed that mark and stay relevant to the playoff conversation as we enter the summer, or, with the draft behind us, the focus will again turn to minor league prospects and trade-deadline speculation.