Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Bull Market

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Bull Market

Article excerpt

There have been a few stretches this season that have shown Pirates fans just how special a player Pedro Alvarez can be. * August was one of them. * It was Alvarez's best month this season. He hit .322 with 5 home runs, 12 RBIs and a season-high 16 walks. His OPS, which measures on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, was a season-high .969.

* * * *

He often has credited his success this season to a level of comfort.

"I don't know how else to explain it," he said. "It's not easy, but the game doesn't speed up on you. You kind of feel in control."

But consistency is king in baseball, and often this season Alvarez has followed strong stretches with silent stretches.

Through it all, he has been a student of experience.

"I think what I've learned this year is the only consistent thing that you can have all the time is your mindset and your attitude and effort," he said. "That's what I've tried to maintain."

Alvarez finished August by being named the National League's player of the week, putting together one of his strongest six-day runs in his career.

But manager Clint Hurdle hesitates before saying that Alvarez is over the proverbial hump. He can recall from personal experience that bad habits -- in life and baseball -- can appear faster than it took them to vanish.

"I can remember my dad sitting me down at the age of 20- something and having 'This is the last one of these I'm going to have with you [conversations],' " Hurdle said. "And by gosh, if I wasn't 30, we had to have another one."

But Hurdle is hopeful.

"You want to believe in things, you trust things," he said. "Yes, I do believe he's onto some really good things."

Front-runners

The Pirates have been remarkably efficient in closing out games, entering this weekend having lost just one contest when leading after seven innings.

It should come as no surprise, then, that they are among the major leagues' best teams when pitching with a lead.

The Pirates entered this weekend with a 2.97 team ERA when leading, the second best mark in the majors. Only the Atlanta Braves (2.90) were better.

"I wasn't aware that the numbers were that spiked," Hurdle said. "I felt we were pretty good at it. There are a lot of numbers out there."

But this one is significant because it helps explain why the Pirates have been so successful. The team entered the weekend 23rd in run production but with a plus-16 run differential. The only winning team with a worse run differential was the Baltimore Orioles (--17).

The team is accustomed to navigating through games with narrow leads, and the pitching staff does a good job of making sure those opportunities are not squandered.

When the Pirates are trailing, the staff ERA balloons to 4.05, though still good enough for the ninth best mark in the major leagues. When the game is tied, the Pirates' ERA is 4.75. …

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