The great Chinese military general, strategist, and philosopher once said “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles…” With the Pittsburgh Pirates battling the Cincinnati Reds for NL Central dominancy, we should take a moment to better understand our division rival.
The astonishment that the Pirates are division contenders is spurred from the fact that they have not had a winning record in 19 complete seasons, or more superstitiously the loss of Barry Bonds to the San Francisco Giants in 1992. The Pirates are fueled by fans who believe; fans who finally see an end to what is known as the Curse of Barry Bonds. When it comes to the great American past time, nothing is more prevalent than the underdog, better yet, the underdog who wins, and above all the underdog who breaks an almost 20 year curse. Baseball itself has no shortage of curses, placed by fans and clubs alike; many curses have been broken after decades of struggles, while others still stand true today. The Curse of Billy Penn, shattered when the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, the Curse of the Black Sox ended in 2005, and the Curse of the Bambino stood for 84 years until the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.
Many curses continue to affect ball club franchises to this day; such superstitions include the Curse of Rocky Coavito of the Cleveland Indians, the Curse of the Billy Goat, plaguing the Chicago Cubs from ever winning a World Series, and the fore mentioned Curse of Barry Bonds. The Bucs have an impressive and rich history of baseball supremacy; with 5 World Series titles, 9 NL Pennants, and 9 Division (East) titles. However the Pittsburgh club has failed to secure a winning record since the 1992 season. After the season had ended, the front office moved to reorganize the team which resulted in sending their star outfielder Barry Bonds to the Giants. The clubs bad luck doesn’t just include the inability to win, they also have struggled with star players, failing to produce in a Pittsburgh uniform. The curse has plagued players such as Jason Schmidt and Ryan Vogelsong, both of which became Giants’ aces. Bronson Arroyo was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox, failing to produce in Pittsburgh, Arroyo now belongs to the Reds as part of their high octane rotation. Tim Wakefield was released by the Bucs, who later led an impressive career for the Red Sox. More bad luck followed with guys like Jose Bautista, Eric Hinske, and Lyle Overbay; all who failed miserably in Pittsburgh and became stars with other teams. The team has missed the mark on multiple draft picks in the first round, picking around names like Stephen Strasbrug and Bryce Harper. MLB draft restructuring, injury to key players, and even death have shrouded the club in darkness and failure.
2012 has been another story for this struggling team; a story of success and good fortune, for now at least. The Pirates currently stand in second place of the NL Central, just a half game between them and the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates are now 54-40 and as of now are on a 5 game winning streak. The club is about to kick off a three game series with the Chicago Cubs (38-56) who are in 5th place. The Bucs’ star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is currently batting a .372/.427/.642 line. Second Baseman Neil Walker is hitting .297, while third baseman Pedro Alvarez owns 21 home runs and 58 RBIs, just one long ball behind McCutchen who has notched 22 home runs and 66 RBIs. On the defensive side of the field, the Pirate rotation has been solid all season long. Burnett, Bedard, McDonald, Correia, and Karstens have been the back bone of the clubs success story while closer Joel Hanrahan has seized 28 saves on the season with a microscopic 2.11 ERA. There isn’t much standing between the Pirates and the division lead during the month of July. The Pirates will close out the month with two series against the Chicago Cubs, only divided by a four game series in Houston. August will be the ultimate trial for the cursed ballclub. August will only bring matchups that will shake the foundation the club has built during the first half. The first twenty days will make or break the team, triumphant or conquered. August will bring a three game series in Cincinnati, a four game stretch with the Diamondbacks, Padres, Dodgers, and St. Louis Cardinals. August will be concluded with more inter-division play between the Brewers and another Cardinals matchup. Each series potentially putting a lot of ground between the division rivals.
The first place Cincinnati Reds need not worry the same fate in August as they have already swept the Cardinals and Brewers this month alone. The club recently came off an 8-2 home stand and will be heading to Houston for another three game series, looking for back-to-back sweeps. The month of August only brings reunions of fore mentioned conquered clubs.
The verdict, survive August and the National League will know if the curse of Barry Bonds has been snapped, and if the Pirates will threaten the NL Central as the best of the best.