If they played 10 games, it's very reasonable to believe the Curve could beat the Pirates three times.
Sound ridiculous? Perhaps in any other season it would be foolish to make such a claim, but this year it's plausible for several reasons. Consider:
1. The Strasburg comparison
2. The Curve's outstanding pitching
3. The Curve's winning intangible
It may be viewed as an attempt to rip the Pirates by saying they wouldn't dominate their Double-A affiliate. That's not the purpose here. To borrow a term that Bucco executives use a lot, the reality is that the Double-A team is just that good.
First, the Strasburg component.
The Curve scored four runs against Stephen Strasburg both times they faced him when he was with Harrisburg (only four of the eight runs were earned). The Pirates scored just two runs off him Tuesday night.
Altoona remains the only team at any level to enjoy success against the phenom. The hitters were patient, made Strasburg throw strikes, worked deep counts and never got intimidated.
The Curve collected 10 hits and struck out 12 times in 9 2/3 innings against Strasburg. The Pirates had only four hits in seven innings Tuesday, and many of their hitters were overmatched as Strasburg struck out 14, including the final seven in a row.
Before we get too crazy comparing statistics, let's keep things in perspective and presume Strasburg may have been using his minor league starts simply to work on certain things. Then again, the bottom line was the Curve batters found a way to get to him.
Putting the Strasburg stuff aside, the biggest reason to think the Curve could have success against the Pirates is their terrific pitching staff, which leads the Eastern League with a 3.10 ERA. The Bucs, meanwhile, have struggled offensively all season, ranking last in the majors in hitting (.236) and runs (189).
Give Curve starters Bryan Morris (2.14 ERA), Justin Wilson (2.70) and Rudy Owens (2.91) two starts apiece in a 10-game series, and you'd have to like Altoona's chances to compete. The bullpen led by Daniel Moskos, Michael Dubee and Derek Hankins could hold its own, as well, so several of the games would be low scoring.
Also, it's not like Pirates starters Dana Eveland, Jeff Karstens or the inconsistent Zach Duke would dominate the Curve's offense, which is very good by Double-A standards and ranks third in the EL in hitting at .265. With several quality hitters in the lineup, they could sustain a few innings here and there and put pressure on a Pirates pitching staff that is next to last in the majors in team ERA (5.26).
It's apples and oranges, of course, comparing Double-A and major league statistics. But don't be fooled into thinking Double-A players are chumps who are light years removed from the majors.
Many of the very best players at this level could step in and do at least a decent job in the big leagues right now, while realistically, several members of the Pirates shouldn't even be in the majors. So the talent gap, in this case, is not as wide as would normally be the case between a Double-A and big league club.
Lastly, there's the intangible of the winning mentality. This Curve squad does all the little things right, and the players simply know what it takes to play winning baseball. Most of them won a championship at Single-A Lynchburg last season and now are part of what is shaping up to be the best team in Curve history.
Altoona's 38-20 record is third best in all the minor leagues, and the Curve held the top spot before losing twice over the weekend at New Hampshire. The Pirates are 23-35.
The most ridiculous baseball movie ever made is "Major League: Back to the Minors," the third installment in the series in which there is bad blood and a meaningful game between the Twins and their Triple-A affiliate. It's an absurd notion because all players within an organization strive to make the big league club better, as opposed to the minor leagues acting independently. (The movie also features Curve GM Rob Egan in a cameo role as a broadcaster.)
Since there will never be a meaningful game between a big league club and one of its affiliates, all we can do is speculate.
Double-A players can do just about everything major leaguers can do on a given day, they just can't do it as consistently. But pit an outstanding Double-A team against a bad major league club, and many people would be surprised that the talent differential isn't all that great.
The best part about the Curve-Pirates scenario is that all the talent in Double-A, particularly on the pitching staff, gives the organization a lot of hope for the future.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and email@example.com.