One of them is still a cellar dwelling team. The other no longer is. And that’s not just by the standings.

The Pirates’ win percentage of .390 is genuinely cellar-dwelling. They’ve been lucky for most of the season, in that one or more teams have had (until recently) even worse showings. But this luck seems to have run out, at least for now.

The Nationals have a win percentage .483. That puts them only half a game above the cellar, but only in the very competitive National League East. They’re also only five games out of first place.

Meaning that it’s not inconceivable, although unlikely, that they could win the division title from here. More to the point, the team has been competitive for almost the whole season.

Both teams have spent the past year or two rebuilding. But one of them has done a better job than the other.

Washington had more to work with. Their offense has always been average to above average.

Their Achilles heel has been pitching.

However, that is a problem which they have largely fixed at one stroke, with the addition of (2009 draft choice) Stephen Strasburg to the roster. Additionally, the emergence of former Met, Livan Hernandez, as a front of rotation type, has certainly helped.

Granted, John Lannan and Craig Stammen are nothing to write home about, but another starter upgrade or two should see the Nationals through.

The Pirates have been weaker on both hitting and pitching, showing strength only in “peripheral” areas like defense and relief pitching. “Upgrades” in the two weak areas worked more like “patches” than anything else, stanching, but not stopping the bleeding.

An example came from the past series.

The Pirates took comfort in the fact that their latest pitching addition, Brad Lincoln, pitched six innings, giving up five runs, not too bad for a first-timer. Lincoln also helped himself at the plate, going two-for-three. The other newcomer, Jose Tabata, went two-for-four.

On the other hand, Washington rookie Stephen Strasburg not only made an attention-getting debut, but pitched very well, PERIOD. If his seven-inning, two-run start turns out to be “typical,” he will be a Rookie of the Year, or Cy Young candidate.

Washington has also helped itself to some former Pirates. They’ve clearly gotten the better of last year’s Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett trade, (which I opposed for the Pirates at the time). And Matt Capps, a closer that the Pirates dumped in disgust after an atypically bad 2009, found his way to the Nats’ bullpen, and returned to his usual (decent) form.

Both teams are making progress. But one appears to be within sight of .500, if not a division championship, while the other has barely begun to lift itself off the ground.

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