Even though it's only about half over, this week is already a better week for the Pirates than last week, but neither this week nor last week will wind up being as significant as the next week.
That's not exactly a time-honored baseball axiom right there. In fact, I'm not really sure it's even a sentence; it's more a respectful nod at my handy Pirates pocket schedule.
Friday night, your defending Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds arrive to begin the most arduous homestand this season, a sprawling 10-gamer against three-fifths of the 2012 National League playoff field: three weekend games against the Reds followed by three against the St. Louis Cardinals followed by four against the Atlanta Braves followed by a sudden and acute awareness of exactly where the looming baseball summer in Pittsburgh is headed.
Have I overstated that?
You should only hope.
If you knew little about these Pirates as they left for the Los Angeles and Arizona last week, you'll know as much or more than you want to by the next time they head for the airport.
Nine games into 2013, manager Clint Hurdle's team remains an argument waiting to happen between the philosophical forces that reflexively see the glass as either 17/18ths empty or 1/18th full.
They just got slapped 10-2 by the Diamondbacks, who finished a sizzling 81-81 a year ago.
Yeah, but Hurdle ran the JVs out there Wednesday, and, maybe you've heard, it's a long season. They went 2-4 on the road trip, just a notch below the .500 objective for any trip, anywhere, anytime. And that followed a short homestand when they came up just a clutch ninth inning short of taking two of three from the Cubs. No worries.
Pedro Alvarez is 2 for 30 with 14 strikeouts. Neil Walker is 3 for 29. Gaby Sanchez (somehow still in baseball) is 2 for 20, and new catcher Russell Martin is 1 for 23 while remaining on schedule to consume about 11 percent of the payroll.
Team earned run average was under 3.00 until Wednesday, putting Ray Searage's pitchers among the more effective staffs in baseball. Opposing batters were hitting a sick .201 against Pirates pitching in the first eight games (that's obviously the traditional sick as in bad as opposed to the avant-garde sick as in good). Only the Dodgers had a better such figure, and that's only because L.A. pitchers spent a weekend facing nothing but Pirates hitters.
Sunday, the Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A's, Kansas City Royals, Colorado Rockies had this in common: They all scored more runs that day than the Pirates had all week. Desperate to avoid the kind of faltering initial step they made last season when they scored only 11 runs in the first six games, the Pirates succeeded. They scored 8.
Koufax and Drysdale soon will be ready to pitch. You may know them as Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton, but the hot anticipation in the media that continues to envelope their continuing recovery from injuries seems to suggest the Pirates will soon avail themselves of the pitching brilliance of two Hall of Famers. You can't wait, right?
Sometimes I don't know whether Liriano and Morton are finally scheduled to pitch live batting practice or if live batting practice is what they've been pitching when healthy. They're a combined 76-99 with a 4.64 ERA.
Andrew McCutchen has a nice jump on another highly productive season with three doubles, a homer, six RBIs and four steals. He didn't hit his first homer last year until May 8, so a repeat of his 31 isn't out of the question.
The Pirates already have struck out 83 times, a pace that would result in 1,494 at-bats in which they don't put the ball in play, or 140 more than last year's staggering 1,354. As Hurdle likes to say, approximately, "You can't win when a third of your outs are just watching the other team play pitch-and-catch."
More teams are winning despite a third of their outs wasted in just that way. The Braves struck out 98 times while winning seven of their first eight. The division-leading Reds have struck out more than the Pirates. Players don't worry about striking out anymore. They figure it keeps them from having to run out grounders.
The big Pirates issue for the next 10 isn't full or empty; it's purely macro stuff: How do they look next to the Reds, the Cardinals, the Braves.
Win seven of those 10, and the Pirates are 10-9, having established a serious competitive presence within the division.
Lose seven, and they will be 6-13 and looking at a summer that could be a lot less interesting than the past two, and not much different from the past 20.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org.