This was the year that the Pirates were supposed to climb out of the cellar. Which is to say that they were supposed to be better than at least one other team in the National League Central.

But after a decent start, that hasn’t happened.

The Pirates do have a nice record (9-3) in the season series against the Chicago Cubs.

Under different circumstances, the Cubs might be in the cellar and the Pirates ahead of them. As was the case in 2006.

But the Cubs played uncharacteristically poorly against the Pirates, scoring fewer runs, and giving up more than their norm against other teams.

The energy of young Pirates seem to be taking a toll on the Cubs aging players in a way that is not happening to either team elsewhere in the majors.

The other candidate to take the mantle of cellar-dweller used to be the Houston Astros. That’s because they got off to a terrible 17-34 start at the end of May. As of that date, the Pirates had been the better team, with a record of 21-31.

But the Astros have gone 16-17, playing nearly .500 baseball since then. On the other hand, the Pirates had a lousy June (6-20). Sometime during that month, the two teams’ curves crossed. And not in the Pirates’ favor.

Houston’s first two victories against Pittsburgh were narrow (one to three run) wins. That suggested two closely matched (bad) teams, with the Pirates on the wrong end. Just as they were on the right end with the Cubs.

But the margin has widened in the last two games, suggesting that the Pirates are falling further behind.

Rookie Brad Lincoln, who pitched well against the Cubs, failed do so last night against the Astros. Other relatively young pitchers that the Pirates have deployed against the Astros are Charlie Morton and Chris Jakubauskas.

Not an “A-rotation,” even for Pittsburgh.

Actually, the Pirates and the Astros are very close in the standings. But the Astros are 4-0 in the season series. Change that to 4-0 in favor of the Pirates, or even a 2-2 split, and the Astros would be in last place in the National League Central.

But they’re not. Because the Pirates haven’t put them there. Which is why the Pirates are there themselves.

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