Pirates Enter Break on Historic High Note

Bucs suddenly with feeling of new life

Josh Rowntree
July 15, 2018 - 8:38 pm
Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell (middle) is mobbed by teammates after driving in the game winning run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the tenth inning at PNC Park. Pittsburgh won 7-6.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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The Pirates head into the All-Star break as one of baseball’s hottest teams, having completed Major League Baseball’s first five-game sweep since 2006 thanks to Sunday’s 7-6 walk-off win over Milwaukee at PNC Park. 

The starting pitching has improved. The bullpen has made massive strides. Much maligned position players, such as Gregory Polanco, appear to have turned the corner at the plate. 

Things, as they currently stand, look good. 

But then reality hits. There is the month-plus in which the team dropped from nine games over .500 to eight games under. There are injury concerns with Francisco Cervelli, Josh Harrison and Chad Kuhl. 

Even after a monumental long weekend, digging out of the hole will take a massive effort when the season resumes Friday. 

"While we’ve closed ground in the division, we’ve closed ground in the wild card, we’ve had a great week against really good teams, we need to do more and we need to continue to play this way,” general manager Neal Huntington said before Sunday’s game. 

Huntington now has to deal with much muddier waters than he might have if the team had continued to nosedive over the last week. 

Just 5 1/2 games out of the National League’s final wild card spot and winners of eight of their last nine games, the Pirates may just be in contention after all.

"I think we’re never out of it,” starting pitcher Nick Kingham said. "It’s why you play 162. You’re constantly in it, for the rest of the season, until you’re not. So I think we never even thought once that we’re out of it.”

Kingham is a part of a young group that has fortified this Pittsburgh run. Key at-bats and pitches have come from players who have spent considerable time in Indianapolis this season.

"It’s an amazing feeling, coming up and seeing guys you’ve played with the last three years,” said reliever Tanner Anderson, who picked up his first career win after pitching the 10th inning Sunday. "You just have a relationship with these guys.”

Other players are making strides too, like Colin Moran and Josh Bell, who put together back-to-back 10th inning hits to giving Pittsburgh its sixth straight win.

"We’ve been in a lot of games,” Moran said. "It’s nice to just get on a run. We know what we’re capable of in here, so it’s just kind of nice to get things clicking and going and hopefully we’ll keep it going.”

"It’s great, especially after this weekend,” Bell added. “(We’re) putting together some really good baseball on both sides of the ball. Scratching out wins, we’re all definitely flying away with a really good taste in our mouths.”

Despite allowing a 3-run, 8th inning triple that, at the time, appeared to doom the Pirates Sunday, Pirates starter Joe Musgrove heads into the break sharing a feeling of accomplishment. 

"We talked about it going into it,” he said. “Let’s try to take five from them right here and go into the break on a high note and I feel like we were able to do that."

The Pirates have 65 games left in a season that has failed to captivate a fanbase. But there’s an opportunity to reverse that with a continuation of hot play and, potentially, a chance to fill Pittsburgh with the feeling Bell described the locker room as having Sunday evening. 

"There’s life back in here,” he said. "It’s fun.”