Defense keys Pirates' turnaround

Nationals, White Sox also mimic 2008 Rays' recipe for success

Updated: August 9, 2012, 12:26 PM ET
By Ben Lindbergh | Baseball Prospectus
PiratesCharles LeClaire/US PresswireClint Barmes has solidified the Pirates' defense and offered the city much to smile about.

With a 7-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, the Pittsburgh Pirates ran their record to 63-47, pulling to within two and a half games of the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds. They remain tied with Atlanta atop the NL wild-card standings.

If the season ended today, the Pirates would be a playoff team. That's not something we've been able to say very often after April in the last 20 years.

Last year at this time, the Pirates were in mid-free fall, fresh off a 10-game losing streak that put them under .500 for good. This year, that collapse isn't coming. Pittsburgh's 2011 team had a minus-39 run differential on this date last season, but this year's edition has outscored its opponents by 35 runs. The Pirates haven't played as well as their record would indicate, which explains why their playoff odds still sit below 60 percent. But even if their two-decade postseason appearance drought does go on a little longer, their streak of consecutive sub-.500 seasons is about to end.

Ben Lindbergh

Baseball Prospectus
Ben Lindbergh is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. He has interned for multiple MLB teams and is a member of the BBWAA.