Now is one of those rare times when, as a Pirates fan, it's not unreasonable to be at least somewhat optimistic. Despite their blowout loss to the Dodgers, the Pirates are now 18-18 despite not getting all that much from their offensive core of Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Neil Walker. They're in third place in the NL Central, and while they might not end the season there, at least they're not in the usual May position of either already being in last place or having to look over their shoulders at some superior team about to pass them and put them in the cellar.â†µ
Now, last place seems a long way away. The Houston Astros are there, at 13-23, and the fact that they've allowed 44 runs than they've scored suggests that they've earned their place in the basement so far. What's gone wrong for them?
To begin with, they've gotten very little from offensive players like Carlos Lee, Bill Hall and Chris Johnson. This is part of the bed the Astros have made for themselves - Lee was a terrifying risk when Houston signed him to a $100 million contract before the 2007 season, and he's been declining since 2008. And Hall and Johnson both have very sketchy offensive track records. (Johnson hit well in 2010, but it would have been unwise to expect him to continue to do so based on his minor-league performanceâ†µ
The prognosis for the 'Stros' pitching is somewhat better - Bud Norris is emerging as a terrific starter, and while the numbers haven't been pretty for anyone but Norris, Wandy Rodriguez and a couple of relievers, at least some of that is due to a pretty rough team defense. Still, the Astros have already given journeyman Nelson Figueroa 29 innings, not a good sign given that it's only May.â†µ
At this point, it's hardly a given that the Pirates will be near last place when the season ends. But even if the rest of the season goes poorly, it looks like the Astros will make it hard for them to really bottom out.â†µ
Here are the NL Central standings so far.â†µ