For the second straight season the Pittsburgh Pirates are making some early-summer noise. Should we be taking them seriously? The upstart Bucs are the subject of today's Triple Play.
1. Is this year's surprising Pirates club any different from last year's surprising club?
David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield), SweetSpot: The big difference is that while last year's rotation was doing it with smoke and mirrors in the first half, this year's rotation is much more legit, led by James McDonald, who is putting up terrific numbers across the board. Behind him, Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett are averaging close to a K per inning between them.
Logan Burdine (@Logan_Burdine), Blake Street Bulletin: Yes, they are different. Last year, they were one of the worst offenses in baseball. This year, they are the worst offense in baseball. These little runs by the Pirates over the past two seasons are nice stories, but just like in 2011, this won't last. Their run differential is currently at minus-17, which doesn't bode well for their chances of sustaining this recent success.
Matthew Philip (@mattphilip), Fungoes: If anything, they're worse -- offensively, at least. If they have any strength, it's their pitching, led by a legit campaign from McDonald. Otherwise, it's a similar group of refurbishments, with the notable exception of their own Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.
2. If you were GM Neal Huntington, what would be your strategy at the deadline assuming the Pirates are still in the mix?
Schoenfield: This offense is so putrid -- Garrett Jones, Alex Presley and Clint Barmes have combined for nine walks and 111 strikeouts -- that in reality it will take three or four bats to make this a playoff offense. And Huntington isn't going to trade pitching prospects Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon. Unfortunately, if you're close, it means you have to hold on to Bedard and Burnett, who could be two good veteran trade chips.
Burdine: I was going to preach patience here, but you know what? Go for it. Pick up a couple of bats. I don't think they will win it regardless, but at this point, what do the Pirates have to lose? I'm sure the fans would greatly appreciate the fact the organization is at least trying to compete again.
Philip: I may be jaded by history, but I don't see the Pirates simply being one or two players away from serious October contention. Huntington could take a low-risk flier on an offensive weapon, like he did last summer with Ryan Ludwick. But he'd be better off going in the opposite direction and selling high on Jason Grilli or Joel Hanrahan.
3. The Pirates will finish the season in ________ place in the NL Central.
Schoenfield: Fourth place. Did I already use the word putrid to describe this offense? I guess I did. It's hard to envision the rotation and bullpen pitching much better so you have to expect a little regression there. But the offense? Is Pedro Alvarez going to figure it out? Is Barmes suddenly going to start hitting? I don't see it.
Burdine: They'll finish third. Pittsburgh has just three players with an OBP higher than .300, and St. Louis has outscored them by 116 runs already this year. Eventually, the Cards and Reds will go on runs and pull away from the Pirates. They are just better.
Philip: Fourth. I just don't see any better than that from Pittsburgh.