F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
Are the Pirates finally for real?
As we pull closer to the midway point of the Major League Baseball season, the Pirates continue to stand among the top teams in baseball – at least in terms of record.
But time and again, the question comes up: Is their current level of play sustainable?
It’s a natural question after 20 consecutive seasons lowlighted by a pair of epic collapses in the past two seasons.
But this team passes the eye test so much better than the teams that have collapsed down the stretch in each of the past two seasons.
The pitching – despite numerous injuries – has been spectacular. Opponents are batting just .228 against the Pirates this season. To put that into perspective, the 1965 Dodgers hold the record for best batting average against in a season at .224. That team, which won a World Series, had a staff that included Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, a pair Hall of Fame pitchers who both were 20-game winners that season.
And the everyday lineup, with the addition of Starling Marte in left field and Russell Martin at catcher, is much better than what the Pirates ran out there last season.
This is not to suggest that the Pirates are going to win a World Series. They still have some holes in the lineup – another power bat would be a blessing – but there’s no reason to believe that they can not only finish above .500, but also challenge for a playoff spot, even if it is as a Wild Card.
• When the Penguins were acquiring proven NHL talent at the trade deadline like they were playing in a four-team fantasy league, the thought was that the remainder of the season was going to be a cakewalk of a coronation for the team.
And there’s no doubt the Penguins had the best talent in the league this season.
But sometimes you can have too much talent and too little chemistry. That seems as if it was the case with this team.
• The Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis will make their second appearance on the HBO reality show, “Hard Knocks.”
After watching the first incarnation of the show with the Bengals in 2009, here’s betting it wasn’t Lewis’ idea to star on the show again.
Lewis, a McDonald native and Fort Cherry High School graduate, wasn’t particularly pleased to have TV cameras following him around throughout training camp that year. Like many coaches, he sees the show as a distraction.
But for a Cincinnati team trying to make a name for itself after years of ineptitude, any little bit of free publicity to help spur excitement helps.
• While there has been plenty of doom and gloom for the Steelers during the offseason, Las Vegas obviously feels a little different about Pittsburgh’s fortunes in 2013.
According to several betting services that send out early win totals for the season, the Steelers’ over/under win total is 9.
Baltimore and Cincinnati are both second in the AFC North with 8.5, while Cleveland is last at 6.
Does that mean anything in the grand scheme of things? Nope.
But the people who put out lines on regular season over/unders aren’t in the habit of giving money away.
They think the Steelers are the best team in the AFC North, or at least think they can get enough people who feel that way that it will be profitable.
• A judge in Pittsburgh Wednesday ruled against the Steelers in their bid to get Allegheny County to pay for 3,000 additional seats as an improvement at Heinz Field.
Meanwhile in Jacksonville, the Jaguars announced improvements to their stadium that included the removal of 7,000 seats.
I guess the two teams have different definitions of the word improvement.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at email@example.com