Has the outfield arrived?
The gap between the theoretical and the concrete has plagued utopian political thought for ages. Efforts to make heaven on earth inevitably run into the inconvenient truth first articulated by Immanuel Kant and popularized by Isaiah Berlin: "Out of the crooked timbers of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."
According to Berlin, all philosophical attempts to manifest the ideal society — from Plato's Republic, to Jean-Jacque Rousseau's concept of the General Will, to Karl Marx's vision of a communist paradise — unwittingly contain within them the germ of totalitarianism. The great tragedy of our political condition is that our understandable yearning for utopia transforms into a straitjacket when implemented by our "crooked" natures.
Fortunately, baseball isn't politics. In baseball, the theoretical can only create wins or losses -- championships or long, dull summers.
For the Pirates' organization and its fans, the tantalizing theoretical possibilities of what an outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco could become has been a source of great, almost giddy, excitement for over three years now. When Polanco was called up in 2014, the three were finally together. Over the first two years, they provided enticing indications that the reality could live up to the theoretical. The only questionable piece was Polanco. After experiencing some prolonged offensive struggles, and occasionally looking awkward in the field, there was some sentiment that perhaps expectations should be tempered for him and, thus, the trio.
But suddenly that seems to be changing. After another huge night, Polanco is leading an outfield that looks positively dominant. Even with McCutchen off to a slow start (for him), the Pirates outfield is lapping the league. The group leads the majors with a combined 143 wRC+ (the surprising Matt Joyce is part of that number), with the Miami Marlins outfield 11 points behind. Their collective 5.4 WAR also leads the league, and is almost a full game better than the second-ranked Cubs.
If Polanco and Marte continue at something close to their current pace, and McCutchen rounds in career form, this may end up the season that promising theory becomes reality, and tremendous baseball abundance follows.
"They are fun to watch," Clint Hurdle said after this one. "They are growing and getting better together and then there is going to be more out there for them."
In tonight's 8-2 win over the Braves, the Pirates' outfielders contributed five RBIs, three runs, five hits and made a couple of solid defensive plays.
Polanco led the way smashing a towering opposite field home run to the deepest part of the ballpark.
"It stands out in this ballpark, when you can take one out there, that's a big reach," Hurdle said. "He's got that kind of power. And he's still learning some things, too."
In fourth, Polanco grabbed a ball hit to the wall and in one simple motion fired it to second, turning Tyler Flowers' routine double into a much closer play.
Jeff Locke said that the throw from Polanco made an impression on the Braves' catcher.
"When I got in the box I turned to [Flowers] and said, ‘What speed you have,' because he just hit that double," Locke said. "He said, ‘It was one of those where you turn the bag and say, oh crap, because you see that guy out there.'"
Locke said that pitching in front this outfield is a "pleasure" because they cover so much ground and create constant pressure on opposing baserunners and base coaches.
As he spoke to reporters afterwards, Polanco looked very much like a ballplayer brimming with a new kind of confidence. When asked if he thought this outfield was evolving into the three-headed monster that Pirates' fans have long envisioned, he smiled and talked about how tight the bond between the three of them was becoming.
"Those two guys have helped me a lot," Polanco said. "We're more together and more familiar. We are up to something, and we are going to keep working everyday to do something really good."
So while Berlin would warn us that political utopias "nurtured in the stillness of a professor's study could destroy a civilization," it is much different when it comes to baseball. In this venue, theory can meet reality with no other danger than making a summer one worth remembering.
With the front end of their bullpen taking on water, it was important that the Pirates receive a strong start from Locke tonight. The left-hander delivered with a very solid and efficient seven innings pitched.
"It was a real good step forward for Jeff," Hurdle said. "I don't think he had all three pitches working at any one time, but I think I he had different ones working at different times. He was aggressive on the mound and kept coming at them."
On the night, Locke allowed six hits and two runs. He struck out six and walked two.
"That's the part that feels good, I was able to eat up some innings for the guys," Locke said. "[Chris] Stewart and I were on the same page all night. Guys made some plays behind me too."
After being promoted three times last season and not making an single appearance, Wilfredo Boscan finally made his Major League debut tonight in the eighth.
"I've been waiting for this opportunity since last year," Boscan said. "It was a very emotional night. Running out to that mound was unbelievable."
The right-hander pitched two scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and striking out two.
"He made it look rather easy," Locke said. "The first thing I told him was, ‘That's not how mine went, that's for sure.'"
With the Cubs loss this afternoon the Pirates moved within 6.5 games of first, as they prepare to host the Rockies over the weekend.