The best pitchers don't always make the All-Star Game. This year, three of the best starters in baseball, John Maine of the Mets and Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell of the Pirates, were left off the National League team.
National League manager Tony LaRussa went with five relief pitchers and tapped the versatile Freddy Sanchez as the Pirates' lone All-Star.
Tired of seeing his league lose, LaRussa decided to shape a team rather than a talent show.
There could be wisdom in that. When the season resumes, though, and Gorzelanny and Snell take the mound in Atlanta, the more important question for the Pirates will be whether these two continue to be one of the league's top starting tandems.
The San Diego Padres are the only team with a definitively better pair of starters at the moment.
Jake Peavy and former Pirates minor-leaguer Chris Young are both deserving All-Stars and Cy Young candidates.
The Mets, Braves and Dodgers are also in the conversation when talking about the best 1-2 pitching punches in the NL, but Snell and Gorzelanny, who have managed winning records on a perennially losing team, are right up there with them.
We will pause here for traditional lamentations about what might have been had Perez and Young stayed Pirates (though Perez's back problems and Xavier Nady's hitting have that trade looking better lately.)
In any case, the Pirates haven't had an argument for having two of the 10 best pitchers in the NL since Doug Drabek and John Smiley in 1991.
And it's a tribute to Snell's and Gorzelanny's consistency that all the talk-show jabber is of stabilizing the back end of the rotation. Good work from these two has become a given.
So let's use the All-Star break to laud a couple of unchosen players.
Snell is sixth in the league in ERA, 10th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.18), 10th in fewest hits per nine innings, (8.02) and eighth in walks and hits per inning pitched, or WHIP (1.174).
The Pirates went 11-6 in Snell's starts.
Gorzelanny is eighth in the league in ERA, eighth in innings pitched (119) and sixth in wins.
The Pirates were 9-9 in his starts.
These two kept the first half from another unmitigated disaster. By the All-Star break last year, the Pirates had suffered losing streaks of six, seven and 13 games. With two stoppers, the Pirates lost five in a row a couple of times but the streaks ended there.
The team, of course, still has miles to go just to get even.
As much fun as it was to beat the teams ahead of them and close a little ground last week, that only means the Pirates' odds of making the playoffs dropped from astronomical to extraordinarily unlikely.
The Pirates still need to go 42-32 just to finish above .500, and the NL Central no longer looks like a division where the winner can sneak in with 85 victories.
The Pirates have to play .554 ball, or about what the Mets have played thus far, just to finish at 81-81 and halt the string of losing seasons at 14.
If you want to make that seem easier, look at it this way. The Pirates took five of every 11 in the first half. They need to bump that to roughly six of every 11 the rest of the way to reach .500.
Taking seven of the past 10 makes that a shade more possible. Having their first winning month would do even more. Thus the three games this weekend in Atlanta present another nice test.
Snell pitches Friday against Hudson, and Gorzelanny looks for his 10th win Saturday against Chuck James.
As the Pirates try to take their fifth consecutive series, the two who were spurned for All-Star honors will lead them. The Pirates began this season hoping one of their young starters might emerge as an ace, but now they need only hope Snell and Gorzelanny can keep pitching like Snell and Gorzelanny.
Brian O'Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947.