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Alvarez success "up" paces Pirates' run

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Pedro Alvarez and the Pirates have won six straight games to climb back atop the NL Central.

With Wednesday’s win against the Seattle Mariners, the Pittsburgh Pirates moved into a tie atop the NL Central (and grabbed a share of the best record in baseball) with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pittsburgh has won a season-high six straight games, its longest win streak since winning six straight back in 2008. It’s the first time the Pirates had at least a share of first place in the division since April 29 when they owned a half-game lead over the Cardinals.

After stumbling to start June (1-4), the Pirates have gone 13-5 since to climb back atop the division. That 13-5 mark is best in the National League and second only to the Toronto Blue Jays for the best overall mark in that span.

During that stretch, they’ve gotten major production from the hot corner. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has batted .353/.421/.750 with 7 HR and 20 RBI since June 7 including two hits in four at-bats on Wednesday.

Alvarez’s tear has helped him raise his batting average 43 points from below the Mendoza line on June 5 (.199) to .242 through Wednesday.

One key to his turnaround has been connecting on pitches up in the zone, specifically fastballs. Through June 5, Alvarez batted .115 on pitches up in the zone with no home runs. On fastballs, he had just one hit in 22 at-bats ending with the pitch in that span.

Pedro Alvarez vs Pitches Up in Zone
This Season

He’s had no such trouble since June 7. Alvarez is batting .556 on pitches up in the zone in his last 18 games (best in NL - min. 20 PA), with two home runs. Both of those home runs came on fastballs up, a pitch he’s hit at a .500 clip (7-14) during the run.

Alvarez’s recent success is just one reason the Pirates might be primed for an extended stay atop the division.

Over their next nine games, Pirates’ opponents have a combined .440 win percentage (Brewers, Phillies and Cubs). Conversely, the Cardinals play their next six games on the road against the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels, followed by a three-game set against the Miami Marlins.

If the Pirates can string together a few more wins, they’d find themselves within reach of their longest win streak since 2004, when they won 10 straight.

Despite the recent success, the Pirates got off to strong starts in each of the past two seasons, only to collapse in the second half. They haven’t posted a winning season since 1992, the last time the club made the playoffs.

No doubt the Pirates are hoping the third time’s the charm.