No, the bad news is that the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t exactly win the recent series against the division-leading Cincinnati Reds. The good news is that the two lost games were “ties” (at the end of nine innings).

Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton and Brian Burres all had quality starts going into the seventh inning and received no decisions. Late-inning surges won the final game outright, and gave the visitors chances in the other two encounters.

Meaning that the Pirates COULD have won the series if they had split the extra innings games. Even a sweep wouldn’t have been out of the question if the Pirates had done better in earlier innings in those games. In Great American Ball Park. That would have been awesome.

That would have left the season series a very competitive 8-8. The Pirates can actually beat the Chicago Cubs in a season series, and are giving indications that they could beat the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds as well with a somewhat stronger team.

The encouraging thing about the improvements this year against Milwaukee and Cincinnati is that they have mainly taken place on the road. That’s because Pittsburgh’s inexperienced team has the worst “away” record in the majors. If the Pirates can start winning more games outright outside of PNC Park, and then consolidate at home, they might actually amount to something.

Still, the Houston Astros, and to a lesser extent, the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central give the Bucs major problems. Recent successes against these teams give the Pirates hope of doing better here as well.

But here, Pittsburgh has to work on winning home series before they can think about trying to beat these teams on their turf. They have one more series each against these teams in PNC Park to show what they can now do.

An across-the-board improvement within their own division would almost guarantee that some other team would find its way into the division cellar. That would be an important first step for the Pirates.

The Pirates still aren’t a good team. But recently, they’ve shown signs of being “almost good enough.” The Bucs have the youngest team in the majors. Further improvement might actually make them a force, at least within their own division.

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