It seems like only yesterday folks were wondering if the slumping Pirates would entertain an Andrew McCutchen trade as the Aug. 1 trade deadline approached. So much for that noise.

The Pirates have changed everyone's tune over the past nine days by becoming one of the game's fastest-gaining teams. Whereas the Pirates entered July 14 games back in the division, their Saturday night victory over the Cubs cut that deficit down to 6½ games.

Some will credit the Cubs' mediocre stretch (13-20 since June 5) for opening the door, but the Pirates deserve their fair share for winning nine of their past 10, and doing it without their Opening Day battery of Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli.

One of the keys to the Pirates' success -- the bullpen. USATSI

So how have the Pirates closed the gap? In large part due to their bullpen.

Entering Saturday's game, Pittsburgh had used seven relievers this month: Mark Melancon, Juan Nicasio, Arquimedes Caminero, Tony Watson, Neftali Feliz, A.J. Schugel, and Jared Hughes. Here's a look at how good they've been in July, updated through Saturday's game:

Pitcher IP H R SO BB
Melancon 5.3 4 0 8 0
Nicasio 6.3 6 3 10 4
Caminero 6.7 2 1 8 0
Watson 5 2 0 2 2
Feliz 4.7 5 1 7 3
Schugel 4.7 4 1 3 3
Hughes 6 7 0 4 0

On Saturday night, the Pirates again leaned on its bullpen to pull out the victory. Starter Chad Kuhl exited after allowing eight baserunners in 2 1/3 innings. Yet Pittsburgh's relievers were able to string together 7 2/3 innings, during which they allowed two runs and struck out eight batters. Hughes even earned a save in a boat race by throwing three shutout innings to close things out.

The Pirates' bullpen depth and quality has been especially important as of late due to the state of its rotation. With Cole, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jameson Taillon all on the disabled list, the Pirates have had to dig deeper on their depth chart to fill out the rotation. That has meant, over the past week-plus, turning to Kuhl, Steven Brault, and Tyler Glasnow for four combined starts. The Pirates have seen that trio turn in just one quality start, yet they've nonetheless found a way to win three of those games.

Fortunately, Pittsburgh should be getting Cole back in the coming weeks. Until then, though, the Pirates just have to hope their bullpen continues to stand strong -- and that they continue to chip away at the Cubs' once seemingly insurmountable divisional lead.