PITTSBURGH -- The team that plays in The Golden Triangle is still trying to complete its baseball triangle. The Pirates' pitching has been top-shelf and their defense tight. It's that third leg -- offense -- that keeps folding. How steady it becomes will define the Bucs' current ambiguous status.
Three games under .500, entering Monday night's game against the Mets, but also merely three games out of the National League Central lead held by St. Louis. Vain tease, or catapult to the next level, starting with this nine-game homestand?
"It definitely gives us confidence going forward, because it says a lot about how good our pitching has been," said center fielder Andrew McCutchen.
Discussing what has held his club back has become a very trite subject for manager Clint Hurdle. But he, too, sensed that this homestand against the Mets, the Cubs and the Reds could signify time for his club to make its move, at least to the .500 mark. The Pirates will have to go 6-3 to get there.
"Pitching has been the part of the engine that has gotten us here. The defense has been great in stretches. We have to do work on offense," Hurdle reiterated. "I've said this every day I've sat in this chair.
"There's still too much anxiety, too much athletic chaos going on [in the batter's box]. We have to be realistic about how we can coach them up to be better. It's easy to complain about what's wrong; you have to help them get better."
The contrast between the two sides of the ball couldn't be starker. Entering Monday night's game, the Pirates had the NL's fourth-best pitching staff (3.36 ERA) and dead-last hitting crew (.217). The yield has been virtually a non-stop sequence of tight games that Hurdle expects to be to the team's long-term benefit.
"Last season prepared them for this season," he said. "Before that, they hadn't experienced many close games."
Of this season's first 41 games, three have been decided by more than five runs. Only two seasons ago, 16 of the first 41 games fell into that "laugher" category.