Bret Boone: Weak NL Central gives Pirates real shot at winning division

By , Audacy

The Pirates were expected to be at or near the bottom of a weak National League Central this season.

But they currently sit atop it, and perhaps the overall weakness of the division will now benefit the Bucs.

Derek Shelton’s team sits at 20-12, entering this weekend’s games with a 1.5-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for the top spot in the division. In maybe even a bigger surprise, the Cardinals have been terrible and are a whopping 10 games back, while the Cubs and Reds have been about as expected.

It’s still early, but there’s enough of a sample size to suggest that the Pirates should be taken seriously. Their starting pitching has been effective enough, and they have plenty of talent in the bullpen. Though they’re largely middle of the road offensively, they’re the most aggressive team in the league on the bases, which has helped win them games.

Whether they can keep this up for five more months remains to be seen. Former MLB second baseman Bret Boone said on “The Bret Boone Podcast” that he can see a path to a division title for the Pirates.

“They’re doing a really good job on the pitching side, they’re third in the National League in pitching. And I look at that division, it’s a weak division -- why not the Pittsburgh Pirates this year? For me, the Cardinals are off to a terrible start – nothing is impossible, but I’d be very shocked if the Cardinals came back and made a run. They’re too far out after one month.

“The Reds and the Cubs, the Cubs did a patchwork job in the offseason, they’re better than they were a year ago … (but) the only team I see in that division, and they can really pitch, they’re No. 1 in the league in pitching, is the Milwaukee Brewers. But I look at the division, pretty weak overall, why not the Pirates?”

The way the Pirates have fired out of the gate is a little similar to what the Orioles did last season. Widely expected to be one of the worst teams in 2022, Baltimore’s young group meshed together great and became a legitimate threat in a strong American League East.

The Orioles ultimately missed the playoffs, but have continued their rise and strong play into 2023. So, while we don’t know if the Pirates can keep the magic alive all season, this current stretch should provide plenty of optimism about their long-term potential.

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