Here we go again. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a winning record, and it's just before the All-Star break. We've seen that before, but not quite like this. They're not just above .500–their .600 winning percentage (54-36 record through July 11) stands as the third-best in baseball, behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox.
How does that compare with other top stories of the season's first half? Can it match the flashiness of Los Angeles Dodgers' rookie Yasiel Puig, or the surprising power surge of Baltimore Orioles' first-baseman Chris Davis? What story gets your vote as Eyebrow-Raiser of the First Half?
The Underdog Factor–Pittsburgh Pirates
Quick–name the last time the Pirates had a winning season. Still thinking? Many Pirate fans can't even answer that one. In fact, many Pirate fans weren't even born yet. The answer is 1992. Yes, the Bucs and their fans have suffered through 20 consecutive losing seasons, the most for any pro sports franchise. Ever. If you are a long-time Pirates' fan, congratulations; you have an admirable combination of loyalty and perseverance.
Last season, the Pirates had a record of 48-37 on July 11, but swooned to 31-46 in the second half to finish at 79-83. 2011's second half was even worse: 47-43 on July 11, 25-47 thereafter to finish at 72-90. Will the Yellow and Black Attack do the Second-Half Swoon for the third straight season?
Not if Jason Grilli can help it. Or Jeff Locke, or Francisco Liriano, or any of the other members of their pitching staff that have led the Bucs to pitching paradise. How stellar has their pitching been? Consider these mouth-watering stats:
- Their 3.09 staff ERA is not just the best in the Majors, it's the best by the width of five strike zones. Atlanta is second at 3.25.
- Tops in average (.225) and shutouts (13), and tied for first in WHIP (1.18).
- Second-fewest home runs allowed (70).
All-Stars Locke and Grilli lead the charge. Locke's 2.15 ERA is second in baseball, while closer Grilli leads the NL with 28 saves, has only blown one, and has a 2.09 ERA. Whoever said pitching is 90% of the game must have been right, because Pittsburgh's team batting average is .243–23rd in the Majors.
The Instant Impact Factor–Yasiel Puig
The fans have spoken in the Final Vote, and Puig's popularity was not enough to land him an All-Star berth. But there is no denying his excellent start, nor his tremendous impact on the Dodgers. LA was 23-32 before his arrival, 23-13 with the Cuban Flash.
Puig's stats in 35 games, through July 11:
- .394, eight HR's, 19 RBI's
- .634 slugging pct., .428 on-base pct.
His 44 hits in June ranks second all-time in the first month of a career–only Joe DiMaggio had more, with 48 in May, 1936.
Since his debut on June 3, no one has been in the spotlight more than this guy, though not always for the right reasons. Two home runs and five RBI's in his second game as a pro. Getting hit in the face and being involved in a benches-clearing brawl with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Creating no little stir with the push to vote him in as an All-Star after playing for only one month. And the latest, showing disrespect to Mr. Diamondback himself, Luis Gonzalez.
The Surprise Factor–Chris Davis
Davis had a plenty solid 2012 season: .270, 33 HR's, 85 RBI's. Is it all that surprising that he's having another good year at the plate? It is when you look at his numbers and realize that he already has more long balls and RBI's than all of last season.
His 34 round-trippers and 86 runs driven in are first and second in the Majors, respectively, and his gargantuan .696 slugging pct. is also tops in baseball. As if that wasn't impressive enough, his .310 average is 40 points better than 2012.
Davis, the starting first-baseman for the AL All-Star team, is also the first player ever with at least 25 doubles, 20 home runs, and 85 RBI's before the All-Star break. No sir, we have neither seen this kind of production from Mr. Davis before, nor could we have reasonably expected it.
What's the story of the first half? You make the call. Log in and leave a comment, we would love to hear from you! And be sure to vote in the fan poll here at Padres 101 about the Padres' most surprising first half performer, and like us on Facebook.
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