Here come the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of five games in a row and eight of their last 10, making a push in the crowded and confounding NL Central. The team nobody was paying much attention to last month is suddenly two games behind the Cubs (who have won their last six games), three games behind the Brewers, who have lost their last five.
This hot streak has been fun, too. Three of the Pirates’ last seven games have ended in walk-offs against division rivals. They just swept their four-game series against Milwaukee, and now have a nine-game road trip through Denver, San Francisco, and San Diego.
This is still a .500 team, but this already feels like a feel-good season in Pittsburgh, most notably due to Andrew McCutchen’s resurgence. Remember his -.7 WAR 2016 season and the offseason drama of the Pirates attempting to trade him, then moving him over to right field? Here we are in late July and Cutch is back to playing center—and manager Clint Hurdle says he will stay there indefinitely because Starling Marte surrendered his claim to the spot when he decided to use PEDs—and is hitting .374/.469/.639 in June and July.
For all the good feelings that come with the winning streak, Cutch’s return, and Ivan Nova’s 131 ERA+, the Pirates do find themselves in an awkward position just a week and a half out from the trade deadline. They were supposed to be sellers this year, offloading McCutchen and Gerrit Cole for pieces necessary to start a rebuild, but now they’re suddenly in the playoff race. Yesterday, Jon Heyman reported someone with the Pirates told him, “Andrew McCutchen is unlikely to be traded, and Gerrit Cole is even less likely.”
The Pirates will finish their road trip a day before the deadline. We should know by then whether they are going to try and ride this thing out and try to sneak into the playoffs or tear it all down.