They finally did it.
For the first time since they took three out of four from these same Dodgers in early June, the Pittsburgh Pirates won a series against a contender.
The Bucs bombed Los Angeles starter Dan Haren and received seven encouraging innings from Francisco Liriano in a 6-1 cruise-control victory Wednesday night at PNC Park. Pittsburgh took two out of three from the visitors, ending a streak of four consecutive series losses against winning teams.
In the Pirates’ defense, however, they’ve taken care of inferior squads about as well as can be expected, going 20-6 in their past nine series against losing teams. They went 4-9 against the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers over that same span, but there’s still time to correct that trend this season.
There are more positive signs as the Pirates (54-47) have improved to a season-high seven games over .500. They’re officially the hottest team in the NL this summer, boasting a league-best 29-17 record since the calendar turned to June.
Almost as importantly, the Bucs are zealously defending their home field. Their 34 wins at PNC are the most in the NL by three, and they trail the Angels by one for the most in all of Major League Baseball.
Their 20-26 road record could stand to improve, but 17 of those losses came in April and May. Since then, the Pirates are 11-9 away from the North Shore, with a 10-game trip starting Friday tha gives them a chance to prove they can keep it up no matter where they roam.
Furthermore, Pittsburgh is first in MLB in on-base percentage, the most important offensive rate stat. The Bucs’ .334 mark is boosted by their 346 walks, third most in the NL. More often than not, they aren’t beating themselves at the plate, as we saw in the final two games of the Dodgers series.
Pirates pitching could still climb the rankings a bit – their 3.68 earned-run average is 11th in MLB – but it’s time to accept that this is a different team from last year’s run-prevention dynamo. That’s OK, because a 6-3 win counts the same as a 3-1 victory.
The good news is that on-base percentage is the least erratic of the three “triple slash” rate stats. While batting average can fluctuate with the whims of luck and slugging percentage often rides a roller coaster’s track, a patient approach can carry a player (and a team) through a slump.
Tougher times are ahead for the Pirates, but they’ve put their disappointing start behind them. Judging from their methods, it’s a surge that should be able to be sustained.