Sneaky Pirates ride rotation to NL's best record and it could be good enough to keep them in contention

Yes, it's only April 20 and, yes, it has only been 17 games, but waking up Saturday morning, Major League Baseball fans might notice the team with the best winning percentage in the National League is ... the Pittsburgh Pirates

It has been kind of a sneaky route, no? This isn't because it's a small market. We all noticed the Rays at 14-4 before these past two days. This isn't because most didn't expect the Pirates to contend. We all saw those 13-2 Mariners

I think it has been a combination of factors, such as the Brewers and Dodgers -- last season's NLCS combatants -- starting 8-2 each, the new-look Phillies storming out of the blocks initially, the new-look Padres being all kinds of fun and how the Pirates themselves started. 

They lost Opening Day and then had their second game cancelled due to weather. They went home 1-1, only to lose twice to the Cardinals in extra innings, blowing late leads in each. They were 1-3 and then swept the Reds in four games, but then lost two of three to the Cubs to sit 6-5 with a 1-4 record when they weren't playing the Reds. 

Since then, the Pirates have won five of six to move them to 11-6. No one in the NL can top or match their .647 winning percentage. They are doing it without a guy who figures to be one of their best offensive players, too (click here for more on Gregory Polanco on his rehab assignment). 

The main way they are doing it right now is in the rotation. 

Friday, Jordan Lyles worked six scoreless innings against the Giants, allowing only four hits and a walk while striking out six. We'll get to his individual numbers in a second because we're going to profile the entire rotation. On a team level, though, the Pirates' starters have the best ERA in the NL by a landslide at 1.97. No other team rotation in the league is under 3.00. [NOTE: If we loop in AL teams, only the Rays are better than the Pirates and it feels like apples to oranges here with Tampa's use of the opener]

This has been a group effort. Check out the rotation this season: 






Trevor Williams




24 1/3

Joe Musgrove




22 1/3

Jameson Taillon





Chris Archer





Jordan Lyles






The top four are holdovers and most have made great strides in 2019. Lyles was signed quietly on Dec. 17 to a one-year, $2.05 million deal by the Pirates. It has been a stroke of genius. Also, here's where I tip my cap to my colleague R.J. Anderson for saying he was "optimistic that Lyles' best work lies ahead" back on Nov. 26

The Pirates certainly have their issues -- and they might have lost Starling Marte after an ugly outfield collision Friday -- but if the rotation keeps pitching like this, they'll remain in contention. It has been that good. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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