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Pittsburgh Pirates end incredible April 20-9 to put baseball world on notice

The Pirates are +53 in run differential.

MLB: Game Two-Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates played a historic April in franchise history. The season rivaled the last time Pittsburgh won a division title and tied records from over 100 years ago. Pittsburgh won its most games all-time in April to start 2023.

Prior to the final matchup of a three-game set against the Washington Nationals, the Pirates’ offensive dominated at the plate in a split doubleheader. The Bucs reached the 20-win plateau third-fastest of any season in franchise history, tying the 1992, 1914 and 1895 Pirates. In 1992, Pittsburgh won the NL East and failed to reach the World Series after a heartbreaking defeat to the Atlanta Braves. The 1994 Pirates finished 69-85 despite their torrid start.

The only years the team reached 20 wins faster were 1902 (24), 1977 (25), and 1921 (25), which resulted in campaigns of 90 wins or greater. Courtesy of AT&T SportsNet, the Bucs’ 11-1 record and +58 run differential over the past 12 games, before losing 7-2 on Sunday, was tops in Major League Baseball.

Johan Oviedo allowed seven runs in one of the worst starts of the young season by any Pirate pitcher after the rotation produced 10 quality starts and a 1.99 ERA in 72.1 innings through the period.

The bullpen picked up Oviedo with 5.2 scoreless innings after the righty only completed 2.1 frames. During the streak, the ‘pen totaled six saves, 13 homes, a 2.78 ERA and a .589 opponent OPS. The Bucs bats also ranked first in baseball in runs per game (7.3), batting average (.309), and extra-base hits (51).

Shelton’s club has taken the initiative to run its way into scoring position and leads MLB in stolen bases by a wide margin. The Pirates stole 41 bases in 29 games, six ahead of the Cleveland Guardians (36) for second. For context, Colorado and Minnesota sit at the bottom with six and four, respectively.

Players have stepped up to fill essential roles when called upon. Rodolfo Castro has limited the impact of losing Oneil Cruz at short, the middle of the order is a common calling card for Connor Joe, Ji Hwan Bae, and the bullpen are great surprises, and Miguel Andujar hit two home runs and drove in six during the twin bill.

This is a sight for sore eyes for all parties involved. Back-to-back losing seasons in 2021 and 2022 made a 20-win start nearly impossible. Shelton and Cherington’s new-look club has won as many games this year as late May last year. Facing the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-game road set will be telling concerning who the Pirates truly are in the early going.

Yes, it’s still April. No one is buying their playoff tickets and guaranteeing meaningful October baseball. But with the first month of action in the books, optimism is at an unexpected high. One man is truly to thank: Andrew McCutchen.

McCutchen has once again changed the culture in Pittsburgh, inspiring a new generation of players and fans to buy in together to the cause. The players are responding, the fans are responding. Fast-tracking the season to look more similar to 2012 than 2011 is one major accomplishment, but much more baseball remains.

One thing is clear; the Pirates are incredibly fun, passionate, enjoyable to watch almost every game and willing to give their all in every facet of the game. Pair this with effective pitching and defense; a .500 record or more is not nearly as far-fetched to expect or believe.