Forget Paul Maholm's 3-7 record. He has compiled a 3.12 earned-run average in 89 innings, holding opponents to 70 hits.
With limited options expected to become available on the trade market next month, Maholm is having the kind of season that could make him a prime target for teams looking to upgrade. After all, few teams sell players better than Maholm's Pirates.
But hold the phone, as Humphrey Bogart might have said.
This time around, the Pirates might be buyers, not sellers.
Imagine them making a splash as the team to land Jose Reyes. Or Bobby Abreu. Or Geovany Soto. Or maybe just a ripple in acquiring the likes of Carlos Pena, Chris Davis or Ivan Rodriguez.
We're more than halfway through June, closing in on the midpoint of the season, and the team that has had 18 consecutive losing seasons hasn't only shown itself capable of having a winning record but of possibly even competing in a powerhouse-free National League Central.
Entering the weekend, the Pirates had won 17 of 27 to move two games above .500 and only three behind the first-place Brewers. It's no wonder manager Clint Hurdle doesn't want his players to limit their dreams to a winning season.
"We're happy to be playing well," Hurdle said last week. "I can understand it's important to some people. I respect it. I get it. But .500 is not what we're looking at."
Hurdle was echoing the message he made in spring training, when cynics inside and outside the clubhouse were evaluating his positive, outgoing style. But how positive could anyone be when the Pirates essentially pulled names out of a hat before appointing newcomer Kevin Correia (10-10, 5.40 with the Padres last season) as the Opening Day starter?
The Pirates were dealt a huge blow when Ross Ohlendorf, whom many considered their top starter, was lost to a shoulder injury after his second start. But Jeff Karstens stepped into that spot, and Hurdle hasn't needed to add another starter since.
A 180-degree turnaround from Charlie Morton and solid work by James McDonald, Maholm, Correia and Karstens has contributed to the starters' 3.60 ERA, the fourth best figure in the NL. The bullpen hasn't been as solid overall but Joel Hanrahan has been the NL's top closer, going 19-for-19 in save situations with a 1.39 ERA.
At some point, pitchers are going to get tired or lose some of their confidence or rhythm. It's almost inevitable. But general manager Neal Huntington can make life easier on his pitching staff if he improves a lineup that ranks near the bottom of the NL in runs (14th), on-base percentage (12th), home runs (12th) and OPS (15th).
Catcher is the major concern at the moment, as injuries to Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit triggered a revolving door that has seen six get starts. Center field (Andrew McCutchen) and second base (Neil Walker) are about the only positions where Huntington probably won't consider upgrades before the July 31 deadline.
Hurdle has the right idea. The goal should be more than 82 victories, even if you haven't had a winning season since Barry Bonds couldn't throw out Sid Bream.
True to your school
Bob Melvin, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, loved going to the Coliseum when he was a kid, either for Raiders and A's games or concerts. He remembers a 1976 show featuring The Who and Grateful Dead.
"The Who never encored, and they encored that day with 'Johnny B. Goode,"' Melvin told the San Francisco Chronicle. "When they left, I remember seeing them in the right-field bleachers, looking down on the crowd. I was 14, 15 years old."
Melvin's first full season as a player was as a backup catcher with the 1986 Giants. He remembers manager Roger Craig telling players to zip it about their complaints on the primitive conditions at Candlestick Park.
"We are not going to (complain) about the stadium," Melvin remembers Craig saying. "We are going to use it to our advantage."
Three seasons later, Craig would take the Giants to the World Series. Melvin, recently hired to replace Bob Geren as the A's manager, dreams of similarly helping his team embrace the outdated Coliseum.
"As far as the (new) ballpark goes, until there's a decision on that, I'm fine with playing here," Melvin said. "In my position, you play the cards you're dealt, and that's playing in this ballpark right now."
Bud Selig knows how thrilled Jerry Reinsdorf was when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 and when the Bulls won all six of their titles in the Michael Jordan era. But he believes the national honor Reinsdorf will receive on Tuesday for community service outshines championships.
"Jerry is a great, great owner," Selig said. "He embodies what you've heard me talk about so much -- that baseball is a social institution that (affects) our world in so many ways. ... He has done it as well as I've seen in the last three decades. This should be his proudest moment. This is as great an honor as there is."
Reinsdorf will be one of 13 recipients for the Jefferson Award for Public Service, which are called the Nobel Prize for civic works. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is among the other honorees.
Under Reinsdorf's leadership, White Sox Charities and the Bulls' Charitabulls have been a major force for improvement, especially in South Side neighborhoods. They have been consistently large givers to the Chicago Park District and Special Olympics.
Pack a big bag
With U2 taking over Angel Stadium, the struggling Angels headed out on a big road trip. They were in Seattle earlier in the week, then traveled to New York to play the Mets this weekend and Florida to play the Marlins before returning to Los Angeles to play three games at Dodger Stadium.
"I don't know what kindergartener figured that one out," manager Mike Scioscia said. "But I think we can maybe move to first grade and get that a little better organized."
That's 12 road games in 14 days, with about 6,800 miles traveled.
"I guess maybe we could have zig-zagged around some more and made it a little longer," Scioscia said. "But the schedule is what it is."
Systems still go
Despite an unflattering profile in Forbes Magazine, which details a long history of employment complaints from minorities and women, Houston businessman Jim Crane still appears on track to be approved as the Astros' new owner. However, one source said Major League Baseball staffers are investigating one allegation raised in the story, with an outside chance it could complicate the transfer.
MLB long ago vetted Crane, who was involved in attempts to purchase the Cubs and Rangers, and excused him in almost all of the cases Forbes raises. But at least one element of the story surprised Selig's staff, requiring additional legwork.
The source denied Crane is under additional scrutiny because of the troubles of the Dodgers' Frank McCourt and Chuck Greenberg, whom Nolan Ryan and their other partners bought out within his first year of owning the Rangers.
Check out the MLB Insider page in full at https://www.standard.net/digital/