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Will the Pirates Plunder their way to the World Series?

By Andrew Goodman

As somebody who has been an avid baseball fan for their entire life, there are teams that I expect to do well every year and others that I expect to do poorly. Every season, come October, I expect to see teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Cardinals and never expect to see teams like the Cubs, Pirates and Royals. However, this season, the Pittsburgh Pirates are proving to me and thousands of other baseball fans that they are for real and will be a threat in the playoffs.

The Pirates have been in a 20-year-long playoff drought. Usually, by October 1st, the Pittsburgh Pirates players are on their way to Florida or Arizona, polishing off their putters and preparing for a couple of weeks of relaxation. This year, the Pirates have different plans. Come October 1st, the Pirates will be right in the midst of things.

Going into the All-Star break, the Pirates have the second best record (56-37) in the majors, behind only the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals. If the season ended today, the Pirates would play for Cincinnati Reds in a one-game playoff for the National League Wild Card spot. However, they are only four games behind the Cardinals, and with almost half of a season left to play, the Pirates are definitely in contention for the division title.

So what is it exactly that elevated this Pirates team to a competitive level? And what happened to the team that went 79-83 last year, 72-90 the year before and 57-105 in 2010? What happened to our terrible Pirates, whose wins we all took for granted!?

The Pirates have five players in the All-Star Game this year, the most the team has had since 1972. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen and first baseman Pedro Alvarez has become the core of the Pirates offense that the team has not seen in years.

McCutchen has decent power, but is really more of an all-around player. He has 10 homers, 49 RBIs and 20 stolen bases on the season, while batting .302. He is also a great outfielder with a strong arm. Since debuting in the Majors back in 2009, McCutchen has developed into one of the best all-around players in the game. He has made the All-Star team three times in only five seasons, and has gotten his career off on the right foot.

Pedro Alvarez brings power to the Pirates lineup that the team has not seen since Brian Giles. Going into the All-Star break, Alvarez is second in the National League in homers, behind only Carlos Gonzalez. He has 24 homers with 62 RBIs and is batting .250. While his average is nothing special, the power that he brings to the Pirates' lineup makes up for it. Almost one third of Alvarez's hits are homers, showing that he is a threat to go deep at any moment.

The Pirates also have three All-Star pitchers. Closer Jason Grilli leads the National League in saves with 29 and has only blown one save. In addition, Grilli has struck out 63 batters in 40.2 innings, while walking only nine batters and allowing only two home runs! Having a dependable closer like Grilli can elevate any team, because having a dependable bullpen to closeout games is just as important as having good starting pitching. Joining Grilli is Pirates' starting pitcher Jeff Locke. Although Locke won't play due to injury, his numbers this season have been phenomenal. He is 8-2 with an ERA of 2.15. In 109 innings, he has allowed only 26 earned runs and batters are hitting only .202 against the young lefty. Locke has proved this season that he may be the future of Pittsburgh's rotation. Lastly, reliever Mark Melancon has been absolutely lights out. In 44.1 innings, Melancon has allowed only four earned runs and struck out 46. His ERA is 0.81, which is absolutely amazing! He has only allowed one hit in the month of July!

These five All-Stars combined with an overall young team have made the Pirates into a team worth watching. With so much young talent, you can expect the Pirates to be near the top of their division for seasons to come.

What do you think of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Will they make the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, or disappoint fans yet again? Share your thoughts. Comment below!

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