Column | Pirates exceeding expectations but fans should proceed with caution


AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar, right, celebrates with catcher Tyler Heineman after getting the final out of the ninth inning in a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Pittsburgh on April 9.

By Jermaine Sykes, Senior Staff Writer

The MLB season is back and rolling and so are the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite dropping their first series of the year against the Cincinnati Reds, the Pirates rebounded, sweeping the Boston Red Sox and taking two of three games against the Chicago White Sox.

However, the defending World Series champion Houston Astros gave the Pirates a reality check Monday night with a 8-2 pounding.

At 6-4 on the season, the Pirates are still performing better than many expected. Fans across Pittsburgh are overly optimistic, and I urge them to pump the breaks. There are reasons that some media outlets like ESPN aren’t high on the Pirates.

Neither the Reds, Red Sox or White Sox made the playoffs in 2022. Neither team even won more than 81 games last season. The Pirates’ hot start is partly because the light schedule MLB gifted them. But when they played a playoff-level opponent, such as the Astros, the Pirates didn’t look like the same team.

Another part of the Pirates’ success is out-of-this-world play from some of their stars. Outfielder Bryan Reynolds is on pace for the best season of his career. Reynolds is posting a .366 average with a 1.207 OPS and a league-leading five home runs through 9 games. 

Reynolds is blossoming into a star, but it isn’t realistic to expect him to keep this up. Reynolds is currently on pace to hit 81 home runs, eight more than the all-time record. Reynold’s power show is highly unlikely to continue at this rate.

Another player performing extraordinarily well from the plate is outfielder Andrew Mccutchen. Mccutchen is hitting .333 from the plate with a .486 on-base percentage. His current OPS is 1.005, which if maintained, would be a personal best. 

Baseball is a game of averages — while McCutchen and Reynolds may possibly be on their way to career years, the Pirates can’t rely on that to carry their offense. They’ll need production from their younger players, and they just lost one for a big chunk of the season.

Shortstop Oneil Cruz broke his ankle sliding into home base in the weekend series against the White Sox and got sidelined for four months. Cruz started the season off slow this season, with a .250 batting average and .375 slugging. But he shows a special speed and power combination that if developed, could make him one of the best players in all of baseball.

Losing Cruz stings for the Pirates’ infield which is struggling to get going anyway. Young infielders Ke’Bryan Hayes and Rodolfo Castro are hitting sub .200. Hayes, a former top 10 prospect in the MLB, is the Pirates’ leadoff hitter. With the lack of production at the top of the order, it will be tough to sustain their early wins.

The pitching rotation is an entirely different question mark for the Pirates. Starter Mitch Keller is the Pirates’ ace and leader in strikeouts. Keller surrendered four earned runs in game one against the Reds, but rebounded in his second outing against Boston with seven strikeouts and just one earned run allowed.

Starting pitcher Johan Oviedo is seeing early success as well. Through two starts, Oviedo is posting a team-leading 3.18 ERA. 

But outside of Oviedo and Keller, starting pitching is inconsistent for the Pirates. Longtime MLB starter Rich Hill, in his 22nd season, is showing signs of age. Hill allowed 10 earned runs in just nine innings across his two starts. 

The Pirates lost 100 games in 2022. While they are off to a hot start, the Pirates need to fix their problems at the mound and at the plate before fans can prepare for a late-season playoff push. Fans should enjoy, but tread lightly, as a disappointing turn around can come sooner rather than later. The Pirates are still a rebuilding team and fans must stay patient.