At 47-43, the Pittsburgh Pirates sit just one game back in the NL Central standings. The club has a winning record after the All-Star break for the first time since Sid Bream slid and Barry Bonds bolted. And for the first time since the 1997 “Freak Show” edition of the club, whose entire payroll was less than what Albert Belle made that year, the Bucs will play pennant-altering games in the second half. The fans are taking notice: attendance is up by 3,000-4,000 per game at PNC Park, and local TV ratings have increased by a third.
But there’s one major weakness that could turn the Pirates’ resurgent season sour: the offense. Pittsburgh ranks 11th in the NL in on-base percentage, 14th in slugging and 12th in runs scored. Outside of MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, no current starter has been comfortably above-average in the batter’s box. It’s going to be hard to keep up with the Cardinals and Brewers with such a tepid lineup.