So it's August 5th. The Pirates have played 111 games this year, and they've won 67 of them. Seriously. They're 67-44. I know that everyone who's paying attention to baseball knows that the Pirates have been surprisingly good, but do people realize that they have the best winning percentage in baseball? They're one of two teams at this point that has a winning percentage of above .600 (the other is the Red Sox YEA BOI). Their .604 edges out the Red Sox's .602. I'd just like to point out a few things about this Pirates team, and delve into just how random this is.
Firstly, the Pirates play in the NL Central. While there are two pretty poor teams in this division in the Cubs and Brewers, the Cardinals and Reds are arguably top-three teams in the NL (the Braves and Dodgers would have something to say about that, but it's arguable). In fact the NL Central has the second-highest winning percentage of any division in baseball. The NL Central's .521 division winning percentage is second to the AL East's .543 (the worst division winning percentage in baseball is the NL East, .476). These are the only two divisions with winning percentages over .500. So it's not as though the Pirates are beating up on bad competition.
Secondly, the Pirates aren't crushing the ball. They're 22nd in baseball in runs scored, 22nd in batting average, 20th in on base percentage, and 18th in slugging. However, if you look at each of the Pirates' regular position players individually, most of them are pretty good. All but two of their regulars have an OPS+ of 100 or higher. The overall OBP for the National League this year is .314, and while Pittsburgh's team OBP is slightly below that at .311, five of their starters are at .335 or above. One other starter, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, is at .303, but he's slugging .489 and has 27 homers. Essentially, this means that the Pirates have few "automatic outs" in their lineup. They have the pitcher (as all NL teams have), shortstop Clint Barmes (61 OPS+) and right fielder Travis Snider (74 OPS+). However, the Pirates have given a lot of those players' starts to Jordy Mercer (109 OPS+) and Jose Tabata (110 OPS+). So taking all that into account, the Pirates are a very solid lineup up and down, though they have only one really big bopper in Andrew McCutchen. They've gotten more than solid years out of guys like Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker, and Sterling Marte. That has really helped the Pirates be the best team in baseball record-wise.
It's no secret, however, that the Pirates' success this year has come from its pitching. The Pirates' pitching numbers are pretty great. Their team ERA is the best in baseball at 3.07. They've gotten awesome years out of pretty much their whole rotation. Three guys have really stood out: A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Jeff Locke (to be honest, I didn't know his first name until I looked it up right now). A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano are total guys who could go either way but are usually bad. Their ERAs this year are 2.73 and 2.02 (GODDAMN) respectively. Jeff Locke has come out of nowhere to be awesome. The 25-year-old lefty has put together 21 starts and 125.2 innings with an ERA of 2.36, an ERA+ of 150, and 2.8 WAR already. Who is this guy? Their fourth and fifth starters, different configurations of Wandy Rodriguez, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Jeanmar Gomez and others, have been extremely solid. Their numbers are all right around average, which is extremely valuable for the back of your rotation. With one of the best one-two-three punches in baseball, along with a more than solid back of the rotation and the best starters' ERA of any team in baseball (3.18), the Pirates have a very strong starting staff.
The starting staff is only the first part of the story, however. While the Pirates have an excellent rotation, it's probably not the best in baseball. The Pirates are only 22nd in the league in quality starts and 25th in innings pitched by starters. Their bullpen has been awesome. The Pirates' bullpen ERA of 2.94 is 4th in baseball, and they have some of the premiere bullpen arms in the game. 36-year-old random-ass closer Jason Grilli is one of the best closers in baseball (though he's currently out until at least September), Justin Wilson has been great, and goddamn Mark "Jed Lowrie" Melancon has been just about the best reliever in baseball. His ERA is actually 0.86. You cannot make this up. He has given up 5 earned runs in 52.1 innings. FIVE. For the record, last year on the Red Sox he gave up 31 earned runs in 45 innings. Goddammit.
So basically, the Pirates are a really solid team up and down. They have probably the best pitching staff in baseball, their lineup is essentially pretty good 1-8, and they've just found the right guys for the job this year. They've essentially gotten the best-case scenario out of washed-up players like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, and Gaby Sanchez. They have the best record in baseball with the seventh-best run differential (third-best in their own division). They've gotten a little lucky, but overall, this is actually a team to watch. That top-heavy rotation and lineup with few easy outs looks a lot like the Giants of the last few years. Just sayin'.