The Rest of May Will Show Who the Pirates Really Are

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It's been an up and down start to the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates so far.  The ups have been great and really exceeded any expectations I had for what this team was capable of.  Seeing that the Pirates had the best record in the National League, even if only for a number of days, was exhilarating.

However, since then, we've seen the lows we've been accustomed to with the Pirates over the last handful of years.  The starting pitching has gone from stellar to brutal, aside from Mitch Keller, and the run-scoring has greatly subsided over the past few weeks.  This is going to be a trying month for the Pirates and I think we'll find out what this team truly is by the time it's over.

As I mentioned, the high-flying start that the Pirates got off to had fans over the moon.  And while that was great, unfortunately, it may have set the bar too high for a team that was projected to win less than 70 games this season.  Now, the fans' disappointment in the team is back with the team currently mired in a skid.  The starting pitching has seen their ERA balloon and the offensive production has been few and far between.  We've seen both ends of the spectrum for what this team is capable of, which is why I think the rest of May is going to be a crucial period for the trajectory of their 2023 season.

May began with two series' against the AL East - a three game sweep by both the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays set the Pirates squarely on the hot seat for a lot of fans.  After a complete game shutout (complete game shutout!) by Mitch Keller last night, the Pirates ended the losing streak with a 2-0 win against the Colorado Rockies.  Following this series against the Rockies, the rest of this month's schedule is as follows:  @ Baltimore Orioles, @ Detroit Tigers, vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, vs. Texas Rangers, @ Seattle Mariners and @ San Francisco Giants.

The Pirates' record currently sits at 21-15 and the majority of those teams have similar records to them, with a few hovering around the .500 mark.  That's a difficult stretch against some good teams (including a West Coast trip which doesn't usually fare well for the Pirates), which is why I think May will be a great barometer for this team's future.

Not only is the schedule tough, but the Pirates are now in a spot where they are going to find out a lot about the talent that they have.  Keller has proved his worth in the rotation so far, but the rest of the starters have struggled recently after the 11-game Quality Start streak they put together.  Not to mention, Vince Velasquez is dealing with an elbow injury, so tonight we will see Luis Ortiz called up from AAA to fill his spot in the rotation. 

Will Ortiz be able to fill in and handle the Major League competition?  Can Roansy Contreras round into the form many expected from him when he was coming through the minors?  Can Rich Hill and Johan Oviedo revert back to the start they had and be serviceable the rest of the season?  There are a lot of questions surrounding this staff, and how they handle the solid offenses they're about to face will have a huge impact on how this month goes. 

While I'd like to see the pitching round back into form, the offense will be the center of my attention this month.  Their lack of run production during the losing streak, and even in last night's win, has been alarming.  They've been averaging less than two runs per game during this stretch, which has certainly been eye-opening.  

In an era where the rules have been altered to allow for more offense, a measly two runs per game isn't going to cut it.  Especially with a pitching staff that has been yielding runs left and right.  In today's baseball especially, you have to score runs to win and this team simply hasn't been doing it.  Even in last night's win, the Pirates didn't get on the scoreboard until the seventh inning, almost squandering Keller's incredible start.

Manager Derek Shelton has been trying to plug hitters into the lineup to jumpstart this offense back to life.  He has even dipped into the minors, calling up Miguel Andujar and Chris Owings, who have been mashing at AAA.  Nothing has seemed to work.  

The hitters that started the season off hot have all seemingly cooled down simultaneously.  It's unfortunate, but doesn't signal the end is near.  There are a lot of highs and lows over the course of a baseball season and offenses are not exempt from them.  The reason May is crucial for the Pirates is we're going to find out if this downswing is just a bad stretch or if this is what the offense truly is and the hot start was simply that, a hot start.

May is a great time for baseball.  The weather is finally getting warmer and the Pirates' season is still in hand.  People are still willing to go to games before the summer is in full swing and the season is fully lost.  For many fans, it's a pivotal month for determining whether the team will be competitive and worth their attention.  

Before the Steelers talk really begins, this is the sweet spot for Pittsburgh sports fans.  Therefore, now is an ample opportunity for the Pirates to capture their attention and reel them in for the rest of the season.  Whether this team can pick back up where they started the season remains to be seen.  What I do know is that we're going to learn a lot about what the rest of the Pirates' season will look like based on how the team plays as a whole, for the rest of May.