Pittsburgh Pirates down to 60-1 and intriguing

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It’s very rare when you see baseball’s worst scoring team contending for a division title, but that’s where the Pittsburgh Pirates (32-27) are right now – neck and neck with the Reds in the NL Central despite being the 30th ranked run (188) producing team.

The Bucs also have the 29th worst hitting squad (.225) and aren’t the best bunch of fielders, either, but they seem to find new ways to win on a nightly basis.

As a comparison, consider that the Rangers top both leagues with a .285 clip and 322 runs scored. Yet through Sunday, Texas would only have a one game lead in the loss column over the Pirates if they were in the same division.

No team is hotter than Pittsburgh right now. They have won 12 of their last 15 games and have done so on the strength of their pitching and making the most of their few hits in timely situations. Where they lack strength in hitting numbers, they make up for it by having the third lowest ERA (3.25) with the arguably the best bullpen in baseball.

The Pirates bullpen has the second lowest ERA (2.44) with the best record (12-4), while blowing only four save opportunities – tied for the lowest in baseball. They routinely find themselves in low scoring games where they are either down or up by only one run.

Whatever situation it is, the bullpen seems to keep time and the score standing still until the bats can finally come around or get to Joel Hanrahan (3-0, 17 saves) for the final inning.

The Las Vegas bookmakers have taken notice of the Pirates and rapidly adjusted their daily rating on them. Pittsburgh has gone UNDER the total in 38 of 59 games, including six of their last seven through Sunday. Good luck finding an eight on a Pirates game anymore unless they face a real tomato can.

A rating boost in individual Pirates pitchers has also been seen in regards to the money-line, most notably A.J. Burnett who the Bucs have now won seven straight games behind. At first we all thought a couple Burnett gems to start out his tenure in Pittsburgh was kind of fluky, but the lines now reflect his excellence.

Sunday’s game against a hot Bruce Chen saw Burnett a -130 favorite, the highest number Burnett has been all season. Sharp money bet against Burnett, but the Bucs won in typical fashion, 3-2.

The LVH Super Book opened the Pirates 100-to-1 to win the World Series prior to the season and now they’re down to 60-1. A three rivers title hasn’t happened since 1979 and likely won’t this year, but there is something about this bunch of scrappers that is intriguing. They flirted with first-place success last season for the first time since 1992, so this isn’t their initial rodeo.

Best of all, here we are in June discussing the possibility of Pittsburgh hanging around for postseason when they went nearly two decades as one of the worst run teams in professional sports and are currently in the midst of a MLB record streak of 19 straight losing seasons.

They’re still a small market team with not a lot of money and with only one superstar, but the Bucs are going in the right direction and the future looks bright.

Interleague Sweeps

Five teams completed sweeps over the weekend, including the Pirates, and fortunately for the pride of the National League, only three came at their expense. The American League holds a 46-38 edge this season in inter-league play and a 2,016-1,836 edge all-time.

The Rockies are now 0-6 this season against AL teams after the Angels caught fire in the same fashion Seattle did when they visited Colorado two weeks ago.

Dynamic Duo

Most of the Angels success at Colorado was due to their top of the order with Mike Trout and Torii Hunter getting hot and often. The pair combined to go 17-for-29 with 16 runs and 11 RBI’s in the three games. Trout added four stolen bases and Hunter had three home runs. Their excellence at the top made Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo’s job as run producers easier and they let loose as well.

Trout is going to be a great hitter and is doing it much quicker and better than most expected. But the surge Hunter is feeling might be the biggest impact on the Angels being able to continue their road winning streak to nine games and set their sights on the AL West leading Rangers.

The Angels have the luxury of being able to put Hunter in a position to get a heavy dose of fastballs because of having a base stealer like Trout who always seems to be on base forcing the pitcher to get the pitch home quicker, and then hitting in front of Pujols. Hunter has always murdered fastballs and it was a stroke of genius by Mike Scioscia to put him in the No. 2 hole.

What Happened?

Two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum is having the roughest patch of his career. Following Sunday’s loss to the Rangers, the Giants have now lost Lincecum’s last eight starts. In most of those starts, the stat line has been the same with Lincecum giving up four to six runs a game. His velocity is down, but more importantly, his confidence is shattered.

In Aroldis Chapman’s first 29 innings, spanning 26 games, he hadn’t given up an earned run all season for Cincinnati. In the process of striking out 52 batters in those 29 innings with his 102 mph fastball, he was named the closer and slammed the door on opponents six times. But then he faced the Pirates last Thursday and they tagged him with his first earned run and loss of the season.

In his next start Sunday night against the Tigers it got event worse as the fireman brought gasoline instead of water. With the Reds leading 6-3 with two runners on and no outs, Dusty Baker sent in Chapman early to put out the fire.

Not only did Chapman allow the two ducks on the pond to score, but he gave up two more of his own, including the final and winning run for the Tigers which gave him his second loss. Still, a 4-2 record with a 0.87 ERA isn’t bad, but a meltdown like that can’t be good for the Reds in the near future.

Closing with Authority

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is already considered one of the best in baseball, but he’s on a run right now that is just about as nasty as it gets. He’s only allowed one hit – not one run, but one hit – in his last 10 innings. Over that 10 game stretch, Kimbrel has saved all seven opportunities while striking out 14.

Dodger Saturdays

The Dodgers were mired in a five game losing streak through June 1, but the next day was a Saturday and broke the streak. Since then they have won seven of their last nine games through Sunday.

With their win at Seattle on Saturday, it took the Dodgers to an impressive 10-0 wherever they play on any Saturday this season. The only other perfect record on a day of the week is the Braves on Mondays who have gone winless at 0-8.

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