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Pirates never score, so how are they in first place?

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Pirates cleanup hitter Casey McGehee is hitting just .203 and has only eight RBI. (Getty Images)

The numbers suggest that there's no way the Pirates can keep this up.

They give up more runs than they score, which isn't surprising, since they basically don't score.

The Pirates are on pace for just 524 runs this year. The only team in the last 30 years that scored fewer than that in a non-strike season was the 2010 Mariners (513).

Those 2010 Mariners lost 101 games. The 2012 Pirates are tied for first place.

They've won 12 of their last 15. They've won five straight series for the first time in 20 years.

"And the reality is we haven't really played well," general manager Neal Huntington said by phone Monday. "We haven't played anywhere near where we can play."

The Pirates were a surprising first-place team last July, too, before falling off for yet another losing season (their 19th straight). Huntington insists that this year can be different, and that the Pirates should be taken seriously as a contender.

"Whether people want to believe it or not, we've thought from Day 1 that we would be in this thing," he said.

I'd find it a lot easier to believe if I thought they could hit.

Huntington cites the recent improvement. And it's true that the Pirates have a .252 team batting average over the last 13 games (after hitting .216 in the first 46 games), and that they're averaging 4.7 runs a game over that time (as opposed to 2.8 for the first 46 games).

He says the players he has will do better, and he says he's prepared to make midseason deals for help.

"We'd love to add some offense to the club, but you can't buy when people aren't selling," he said.

It's great that he believes. It's great that Pirates fans, after two decades of losing, have even a little chance to get excited.

But after Andrew McCutchen, who is playing like the star he is (an MVP candidate, as colleague Jon Heyman said on Twitter), can anyone on this team hit enough for the Pirates to keep winning?

Check out the batting averages in Sunday's Pirates box score, from a game the Pirates won, 3-2 over the Royals, to move into a first-place tie with the Reds in the National League Central.

There's cleanup hitter Casey McGehee, hitting .203 (and with just eight RBI). There's fifth-place hitter Matt Hague, hitting .208. And leadoff hitter Alex Presley, with a .255 on-base percentage.

The Pirates pitching staff has been shockingly good. It's about time someone gave Huntington a little credit for working out the A.J. Burnett trade, because Burnett has been worth twice what the Pirates are paying him ($5 million, with the Yankees paying the other $11.5 million).

Can Huntington find a way to work similar magic to find a hitter?

I can't imagine he could, in a trade marketplace where sellers are hard to find and decent hitters are even scarcer. I'm not even sure he should, given the resources it would take and the Pirates' still questionable chances of making the playoffs.

But just as it was good for baseball that the Pirates spent a few days in first place last July, it's great that they're back in first place (tied, anyway) this June.

Can it last?

I can't imagine it will, even in a division like the NL Central (where the Pirates and Reds have the lowest winning percentage of any first-place team). Then again, I couldn't have imagined that the Pirates would be in first place now.

It's hard to win when you never score.

 
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