Bob Smizik: Pirates keep rolling

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There’s no telling what’s around the next bend in athletic competition. Today’s winner can be next week’s loser. There’s often no explaining how teams that seem so very good one day can deflate and decline the next. It’s one of the beauties of sports. It's one of the agonies of sports.

Which means that the Pirates, winners of 11 of their past 16, could take a tumble no later than tomorrow. But for now it’s time -- even for the most hardened of critics -- to smell the roses.

The Pirates dispatched the Miami Marlins on Saturday, 8-6, with another sterling start by Charlie Morton, another team-wide offensive outburst and, yes, another meltdown by the bullpen.

Since May 5, when they were 12-20, the Pirates are 22-14. To put that in perspective, over that same time span, the San Francisco Giants are 22-15, the Oakland A’s are 21-14 and the Milwaukee Brewers are 19-17.

All of which means for close to the past seven weeks, the Pirates have been among the elite teams in baseball.

Yes, their baserunning stinks and their bullpen has been a recent mess. But here’s a bulletin for those who demand perfection: The 1927 Yankees lost 44 times. It happens. To the best. And sometimes it’s ugly.

For those who love to dwell on the negative, here’s some cheery news:

■ Only the Colorado Rockies have scored more runs than the Pirates this month.

■ No team has a higher OPS in June than the Pirates’ otherworldly .822.

■ Ten Pirates, including Travis Snider and Jose Tabata, have an OPS of .800 or better.

■ Andrew McCutchen is back to being among the best -- if not the best -- player in baseball.

McCutchen hit a three-run homer Saturday. It was his sixth of the month. He also had a single, which left his average for June at .408 and his OPS at a ridiculous 1.432. For the season, he's batting .323 with a .988 OPS, both third in the league.

It’s not quite proper to say McCutchen is carrying the Pirates because he’s getting lots of help. Jordy Mercer also homered, in the second to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Gregory Polanco drove in two runs. Josh Harrison and Chris Stewart had three hits.

The Pirates are rampaging. So for at least a few minutes can we forget about the baserunning blues.

Morton continued to easily wear the mantle of staff ace with seven strong innings -- five hits, two runs. Since the end of April, his ERA is 2.40. The Pirates have won his last three starts and four of his past five. Only once in his past nine starts has he allowed more than two runs.

With the Pirates leading 8-2, manager Clint Hurdle replaced Morton, 108 pitches, with Stolmy Pimentel, fresh off the disabled list. In his first MLB appearance since May 1, Pimentel retired the Marlins in order in the eighth but ran into a bundle of trouble in the ninth, two home runs, and Jason Grilli came on to get the final out.

People searching for warts can always find them. The Pirates, no doubt, have their share. But they’re back at .500, still looking at an easy schedule into next month and are 1 1/2 games from a wild-card slot.

The season has miles to go and the Pirates could stumble. So might Milwaukee and St. Louis. The Pirates are hot. Enjoy!

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