ARLINGTON -- The Pirates' performance has surprised people in all walks -- Las Vegas' preseason over-under on their wins total was 76 and they're at 82 with 19 games to go -- and no one more pleasantly than one of their own.
When catcher Russell Martin pulled his own surprise by signing as a free agent with a franchise weighed down by 20 consecutive losing seasons, he was candid in saying he did it to "improve myself, because I can play much better, and go at [free agency] again in a couple of years."
That made him sound a lot like the players who years ago picked Pittsburgh because, in general manager Neal Huntington's words, "they felt they could reestablish themselves here, then move on."
In that context, then, is Martin blown away by the Bucs moving closer to taking him back into the postseason?
"I don't know if you can call it surprised ... grateful and happy, for sure," Martin said. "I knew there was a lot of talent on this team, I just didn't know how much talent. In Spring Training, I found out we had a lot of deep pitching talent.
"The surprising thing is how well we've played defensively behind our pitching. And I'm definitely happy we got over that [losing seasons] hump. The goal always is to get to the postseason," added Martin, who has participated in four of the last five playoffs with the Dodgers (2008-09) and the Yankees (2011-12). "That's when baseball really becomes fun."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.