As the Pirates and Reds meet for the first series after the All-Star break, Pittsburgh finds itself four games ahead of third-place Cincinnati. Still, many fans are expecting to see the Pirates embark on a huge slide akin to the ones they have suffered each of the last two years.
In 2011, Pittsburgh went just 18-38 during the last two months of the season. Last year’s collapse was even worse, as the Pirates won just seven of 28 games in September.
Pittsburgh is in a similar position this year, but they have a little higher winning percentage. At nineteen games over .500, the club would still make the playoffs in spite of a considerable slide.
A small losing streak is much more likely than a slide for this year’s Pirates. The offensively-challenged roster may look mostly the same as last year, but there are some small but significant differences.
First of all, Pedro Alvarez has finally developed into a left-handed power complement to All-Star Andrew McCutcheon. Alvarez did hit 30 home runs and drove in 85 last year, which were good numbers. This year, however, his numbers have been great.
He already has 24 home runs this year, which puts him on a pace for forty. Alvarez currently has 64 runs batted in, making him a virtual lock to drive in over 100.
Another key improvement for the Pirates involves a transaction completed over the winter. The club acquired catcher Russell Martin, a significant upgrade over last year’s backstop Rod Barajas.
Not only is Martin’s career batting average of .258 fifty points higher than Barajas hit last year, but Martin has much needed post-season experience. He reached the playoffs with both the Yankees and the Dodgers during his career, bringing to the young Pirates a leader to guide them through what is sure to be a grueling three-team race in the National League central.
Because of Pittsburgh’s late season collapses in 2011 and 2012, most Reds fans tend to dismiss them as the primary rival. People in Cincinnati instead expend all their anxiety toward the Cardinals, the only team that kept the Reds from three consecutive division titles.
Fear of the Cardinals is justifiable; they are in first place and have the best record in baseball. However, Cincinnati fans must accept that the other rival is not the same Pittsburgh team that folded two years in a row.
Doug Poe once delivered newspapers to Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, three customers who have made him a lifelong fan of the Reds.