The All-Star Break is usually a good time to look at what went right and wrong in the first half of the season (57 percent, really. That's as in-depth as the statistics will get) and to think about what the team needs to do to improve in the second half. That's not what I'm going to do. We all know that a couple of players on the team aren't producing, and that there are spots where the team needs to get better -- we've had some posts discussing that. And I definitely don't want to make any predictions or offend the Jinx Gods in any way. What I want to do is reflect on the first half of the season. It's been cool, hasn't it?
Here are some things to love about what's happened so far:
Andrew McCutchen. He's not putting up mind-blowing numbers at the plate the way he did last year, but he's been good in all facets of the offensive game, and anything he's lost with the bat he's made up for with his improved defense. Outside of Pittsburgh, people may not realize it, but 's a top-10 position player in MLB yet again.
Starling Marte. Whatever warning signs we may have worried about last year, so far this year he's been excellent. His average (combined with enough plunks to get him on base) and power make him an above-average corner outfielder with the bat, and he's much more than above average with the glove.
Pedro Alvarez. He strikes out a ton. Once gain he started the season by making us wonder how we ever thought he could hit. And when he hits the ball it goes a long way. It's been going a long way often enough to make him a deserving All-Star. More surprisingly, he's turned into a good third baseman.
The free agents. Before this year, the Pirates' history with free agents was... not great. Then they gave out two of the three biggest free-agent contracts in their history to a catcher the Yankees didn't want and a maddeningly inconsistent pitcher who'd just applied for the Goofy Injury Hall of Fame. Since coming back Liriano's been superb, and Martin's reminded us what it's like to have a catcher who can hit and field.
The back of the rotation. A team that loses two guys off the rotation depth chart before the season starts and uses eleven starters before the All-Star Break is usually in a world of hurt. The Pirates have got creditable performances from the guys who've had to fill in, and, at least by ERA, downright brilliant performances from Jeff Locke and Jeanmar Gomez. You might have seen Locke being good, but not this good. You didn't see Gomez doing what he did, unless you're Vlad. Maybe they've been getting luck on balls in play, but maybe it's...
The defense. You may have noticed a theme. The ball gets hit, the Pirates catch it. They've been better at it than any other team.
The bullpen. I don't even need to talk about this.
Clint Hurdle. Yeah, I said it. The head-scratching decisions have gotten a lot rarer. The only guys who are trying to steal bases are the ones who can. The players are standing in the right places. The pitchers are being used well. The Purple One seems like he's been doing a good job.
56-37. I don't know what's going to happen the rest of the season. I know what's happened the last couple of years. I know that baseball is unpredictable. I know that they don't give out any awards at the All-Star break (unless you count All-Star berths). But I also know that, right now, our Pittsburgh Pirates have won 60.2 percent of the games they played, and that's pretty nice.