It is often said that in Major League Baseball, playoff spots cannot be won early on in the season, but they can certainly be lost.  

For the Pittsburgh Pirates, it looked as if that may have been the case early on.  

The date was May 5, and the Pirates had lost 11-10 to the San Francisco Giants, putting them at a season-low eight games below .500 and 9.5 games out of first place.  

Now, almost six months later, the Pirates have punched their ticket back to the postseason for the second straight year.  

The Pirates defeated the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday evening by a score of 3-2. To make matters even better, the Cincinnati Reds took down the Milwaukee Brewers, who were chasing the Pirates in the standings.  

The victory marked the team’s 15th win in its last 18 games, as Pittsburgh has suddenly become the hottest team in baseball.  

Pittsburgh has received key contributions from a number of players, but no one has been more valuable to them than reigning National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen.  

After batting just .286 in the first month of play, McCutchen has remained hot throughout the season, raising his batting average to .313.  

Then there is second baseman Neil Walker, whose value to his team is immeasurable. In his sixth major league season, Walker has blasted a single-season career-high 21 home runs. He also increased his batting average from .251 in 2013 to .270 this season.  

Still, the Pirates probably wouldn’t have been where they currently are without catcher Russell Martin, whose contract is set to retire after this season.  

Statistically speaking, Martin is having the best season of his career, batting .294 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI in 107 games.  

Martin’s presence both at the plate batting and behind the plate catching has been one of the main reasons the Pirates have clinched playoff spots the last two seasons.  

When star third baseman Pedro Alvarez was hampered by injuries all season long, it looked as if the Pirates would have a tough time scoring runs. After all, Alvarez was coming off a 2013 season in which he blasted 36 home runs and drove in 100 runs.  

Even though Alvarez has driven in just 56 runs in 2014, the Pirates are still ranked third among all teams in the NL in runs scored.

Another major question mark about the 2014 Pirates at the beginning of the season was their pitching rotation.  

After losing starting pitcher A.J. Burnett to the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency prior to the start of the 2014 season, the Pirates had a hole to fill in the middle of their rotation.  

Enter Edinson Volquez.  

Who would have ever thought Volquez could do what he did all season long for the Pirates? After going 9-12 with a 5.71 ERA in 2013, Volquez has bounced back drastically, going 12-7 with a 3.15 ERA in 30 starts for the Pirates in 2014. 

Even Francisco Liriano, who was undoubtedly the ace of Pittsburgh’s staff in 2013, has bounced back after a slow start to 2014.  

After starting the season 1-7 with a 4.72 ERA, Liriano has returned to form over the last few months, bringing his season totals to a record of 7-10 and an ERA of 3.32.  

Liriano has allowed just three earned runs combined in his last six starts, as he has proven that he is ready to pitch in the NL Wild Card Game if manager Clint Hurdle elects to go with him.  

At the All-Star break, the Pirates were just three games over .500. After the break, the Pirates have gone 37-25. They are even currently knocking on the door in the NL Central Division race, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by just 1.5 games.  

The Pirates couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot. It will be interesting to see if they can carry this momentum into October.  

If so, the Pirates will have a legitimate shot at making it back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1979.

Led by Martin and McCutchen, these Pirates are fighters, and they will not go down without swinging. So buckle up and get ready for “Buctober,” as the Pirates are set to make another run in 2014.   


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