Pittsburgh Pirates Surprise Baseball Fans With Winning Season
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in Major League Baseball. It's been 21 years since the Pirates have made the post-season, and that may be the biggest surprise in a baseball season so far that is full of surprises. And here to talk about all this is Jonah Keri, who covers baseball for Grantland.com. Welcome to the program.
JONAH KERI: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about the Pirates first. They've always seemed to have had good young players, but that has never led to lasting success. What's different this time?
KERI: Well, it's kind of all come together. They have had some good young players, but they haven't had a collection quite like this one. They've drafted very high in the draft every year. When you're a bad team, you basically get to pick from the best of the litter, and for whatever reason, they've messed it up many times. And now we're starting to see the talent come together in a good way, and their pitching has been the big story.
They acquired a guy named Francisco Liriano, typically an injury-prone pitcher who struggles with command. He's been great. And another named Jeff Locke, who came out of nowhere and was known really for nothing other than having long hair. And at this point, he's having a great season, too.
SIEGEL: Of course they've been here before. Two years ago on this program we talked about the surprising first-place Pirates. And then almost the day after that, they collapsed and ended up in fourth place. Is there any chance that could happen again this year?
KERI: Well, let's hope it's not the curse of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, right. Yeah, no, this is probably a better team than it was last time. But I don't think it's a team necessarily that's fully formed. I do think that they owe it to their fans and to themselves to go out and be aggressive toward the trade deadline. We're four weeks away from that.
If they just stood pat and did nothing, I don't think they'd collapse necessarily, but I wouldn't necessarily say with 100 percent confidence they would make the playoffs, either. So it is a better club but if there are trades to be made, I think that it behooves them to try to make them.
SIEGEL: OK, staying in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers have spent a ton of money on household names with no luck. But after a slow start, it looks like a Cuban defector, known by only the most die-hard fans just a couple of months ago, could wind up saving the Dodgers. How great has Yasiel Puig been in his debut?
KERI: He's been tremendous, one of the best debuts you've ever seen in baseball. I will say this, though. You know, I don't want to rain on the parade, but one of the records that he held was there were only two players in the history of baseball who homered four times in their first five games. One is Yasiel Puig, and that's great. The other one is a guy named Mike Jacobs.
If you know who Mike Jacobs is, then you win the prize because he amounted to basically nothing.
KERI: But yes, so far, supremely talented, and the good thing for the Dodgers, as well, is very, very weak division. It really would not take that much to win the NL West this year. If Puig keeps hitting, and some of their other guys come on, they could do it with 86 or 87 wins.
SIEGEL: Turning to the American League, the defending champion Detroit Tigers are in first again. And last year's MVP Miguel Cabrera is great again. But the best player on that team this year might be pitcher Max Scherzer, who's 13 and 0. He's not going to be undefeated, obviously, could his season end up a historic one?
KERI: Well, it could. The interesting thing about Scherzer and really any pitcher is when you are a quality pitcher and you have a lot of support, that allows you to win games. I mean, you have Cabrera and Prince Fielder and some other guys putting up runs when Max Scherzer pitches, and it's been great. He is a tremendously good pitcher. He deserves the accolades that he has. But the 13-and-0 record, I wouldn't say that this guy's a flawless pitcher, even if the record implies it.
SIEGEL: Another eye-popping stat comes from Baltimore Orioles' first-baseman Chris Davis. He has 32 home runs so far this year. And people are wondering if he could at least do better than Roger Maris' mark of 61 home runs, which would be the pre-steroid official record for home runs in one season.
KERI: He's been tremendous and it's an interesting story. Here was a guy who was always a good home run hitter, and he's hitting a lot of home runs this year, too, of course, but he's changed the methodology. I mean, he has the ability to hit pitches that are on the outside corner and hit them out to left field and left center. That's been great. Just a much better batting eye. Just a much better approach all around. So it's made for a great season.
I mean, the home runs stand out, but he's hitting well over 300. He's walking more than ever before. He's just become a complete hitter.
SIEGEL: Jonah, thanks for talking with us about baseball today.
KERI: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: That's Jonah Keri, who covers baseball for Grantland.com.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.