I think it's time to take the Pirates seriously.
Sure, it's a weak division. Sure the schedules of the contenders haven't exactly been balanced so far and there are a ton of inter-divisional games left to play. But any time you've reached the latter part of July in the lead, you're a contender to be reckoned with.
The Pirates are a great example of how important fundamental play is. They don't have any big money guys or a lot of up and comers that the experts love to salivate over. All they do is pitch pretty well, play defense pretty well and push runs across the plate when they have an opportunity... It seems to me that if the Cardinals -- not to mention the Brewers and Reds high dollar players -- did the little things like the Pirates do, this wouldn't even be a contest.
But the Bucs might do something soon to address that talent divide. I suspect they could make a splashy short term rental of the sort that the Redbirds, Redlegs and Brew Crew can't afford to make. Imagine if a middle of the lineup guy with a strong playoff reputation like Carlos Beltran landed in Pittsburgh. The more traditional division contenders aren't going to part with a pair of high level prospects for a short term rental because they need to worry about 2012 and 2013.
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That's not the case for the Pirates. They haven't been in the playoffs in 19 years. And their sudden success has led to surprising interest at their home ballpark. If I was the Pirates GM, I would be willing to make a high profile move to make the fans believe their club not only has a chance this season -- but that it's committed to realistically trying to win, not just cash its revenue sharing checks and serve as a Class AAAA farm club.
I've heard a lot of people say lately that they're rooting for the Pirates. But I don't believe their story is the feel good event some people think it is. Don't get me wrong, I would like to see the Pirates, Royals, Indians, Marlins and Twins be in a position to compete every year. And I would much prefer seeing the World Series trophy head to a small market town. But the only way to get that is to revamp baseball's financial landscape and create a real salary cap.
In the grand scheme of things, all the fluky success of the Pirates and Indians in 2011 will do is give the Yankees and Red Sox more ammunition in their case that everything is fine just the way it is. If the Pirates did happen to win the World Series -- after nearly two decades of sub .500 baseball -- all it will really do is push off the inevitable reform for a few more years.