Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 Midseason Review

The Pittsburgh Pirates entered the All-Star break as one of the major surprises of the 2012 MLB season. The team fought through one of the toughest first half schedules in the league and now sits on top of the NL Central with a 48-37 record.

Here’s a look the first half of the Pirates’ season:

Superstar

When the Pirates struggled to score early in the season, there were two things that saved the team: starting pitching and Andrew McCutchen’s offensive performance. The 26-year-old McCutchen hit .362 with 18 home runs, 60 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases as the heart of the team’s batting order. His numbers are even more impressive when you look at how little protection he received from the rest of the lineup for much of April and May.

If McCutchen continues to perform like he has thus far in 2012, there’s an excellent chance that he’ll receive the NL Most Most Valuable Player Award. There’s also a good chance that the team’s newest superstar will lead the Pirates to their first winning season since 1992.

Pitching dominance

The Pirates’ pitching has long been regarded as the team’s strength, but with the addition of A.J. Burnett and the emergence of James McDonald, it’s become one of the best staffs in all of baseball. Burnett and McDonald entered the All-Star break with a combined 19-5 record with 203 innings pitched and 179 strikeouts. Both men have more than made up for the club’s inability to find a steady fifth starter to hold the back end of the rotation together.

I’m not sure if Burnett and McDonald can keep it up in the second half of the season. The Pirates fell apart in 2011 because their pitching tired, and it could happen again as the pennant race winds down. Still, this staff has helped give Pirates fans more hope for the future than they have had in years.

Struggles that need to improve

The Pirates’ offense improved dramatically in June, but there are still only two players on the entire team who are hitting above .270. The Pirates will need more production out of the lineup if they are going to win the NL Central. Keep an eye on third baseman Pedro Alvarez. He’s hit 16 home runs for 50 RBIs thus far, despite maintaining a meager .231 batting average. If he can get his average up to around .270, that will make a huge difference in the team’s production during the second half of the season. The same goes for struggling shortstop Clint Barmes (.204) and Casey McGehee (.252). Improved numbers from all of these players are needed if the Pirates hope to make the playoffs.

Derek Ciapala has been following the Pirates since the days when Bob Walk and Doug Drabek took the mound for the Buccos. You can follow him on Twitter @dciapala.

Source: Baseball-Reference.com