Baseball fans in Pittsburgh haven't had much cause to pay attention to the All-Star game in a couple decades.
The Pirates usually only had one token representative and, more often than not, that player was fortunate to sneak into the game in the latter innings.
But with both Andrew McCutchen and Joel Hanrahan promising to play prominent roles in tonight's game, Pirates fans might tune in a little longer than usual.
Major League Baseball changed its rules a few years back to make the game “meaningful” by awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league, and there should at least be more than a passing interest in Pittsburgh.
That's right, I'm mentioning home-field advantage in the World Series and the Pirates.
Why not?On May 9, the Pirates were 14-16. On July 9, they were 48-37 and had the second-best record in the National League. Only the Washington Nationals at 49-34 have been better.
The biggest difference for the Pirates has been the offense.
Over the season's first two months, the Pirates were dead last in the majors nearly every major offensive statistic except home runs. They weren't just bad, they were historically bad.
But over the past month, the team has climbed up to respectability.
Consider that on May 9, this was a team that had scored 87 runs in its first 30 games – fewer than three runs per game and exactly half of what then-NL Central Division leader St. Louis had at that point. That also was 15 runs fewer than the next lowest-scoring team, San Diego.
A look at that most important offensive statistic now shows that the Pirates have 345 runs, which puts them at a still-mediocre 10th in the National League.
But a closer look at that shows more of the picture. Since that terrible start, Pittsburgh has scored 258 runs in its last 55 games, an average of 4.7 per game. Nobody is going to confuse the Pirates with the Ruth-Gehrig era New York Yankees, but they've been plenty good enough offensively recently to win games.
McCutchen has obviously been a big part of that. Now in his fourth season in the majors, he's turned into a superstar, ranking among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category.
Over the last two months, he started getting help from others in the lineup, be it Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones or Casey McGehee.
It's still not an ideal lineup. This is still a team that could use another bat, preferably at one of the corner outfield positions.
But manager Clint Hurdle is making it work, at least for now. Everyone, after all, remembers the swoon of 2011, when the Pirates quickly fell out of contention after playing solid baseball into late July.
However, there is a different dynamic this year. The Cardinals and Brewers aren't as good this season as they were last year. Houston and Chicago are awful.
This just might be the year the Pirates not only end their streak of 19 seasons without a winning record, but make the playoffs as well.
And once that happens, why not dream big? Why not think World Series?
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.