PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Pirates have been hot lately, which leads to the inevitable question:
Can it last?
You know what happened last year. The Pirates were better than expected, and even went out and acquired offensive reinforcements at the trade deadline.
But that was followed by a nosedive that led to another disappointing 90-loss season.
A couple of things are different this season: The Pirates' starting pitching is better. The National League Central isn't as good.
Last year it was a matter of time before the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers kicked into gear and left the rest of the division behind.
Those two teams aren't as strong this season. The Cincinnati Reds look like the best team.
If the Pirates' offense can pull out of its slumber, they have a chance to continue the success they've enjoyed so far.
Part of Major League Baseball's agenda in revamping rules for the amateur draft was neutering commando agent Scott Boras.
Boras (and others) skillfully manipulated the system toward huge signing bonuses for untried players.
Jeff King was the first overall pick in 1986 and had to hold out for a $180,000 bonus; Washington gave Stephen Strasburg a package that guaranteed $15.1 million in 2009.
Given the level of outrage coming from Boras' camp, the new system must be working.
The Penguins' season ended on April 22, and that's when GM Ray Shero's work started.
He had to let the emotion of the first-round playoff elimination dissipate, then get busy making sure it doesn't happen again.
His first move is interesting. He signed goalie Tomas Vokoun for two years and $4 million to back up Marc-Andre Fleury.
OK, everyone knew Brent Johnson, the back-up for the past three seasons, wasn't coming back. But instead of getting another prototypical No. 2, Shero invested in a guy who could be No. 1 on some teams.
The stated explanation is the Penguins want Fleury to play less than he did last season. But the real reason appears to be the Penguins don't want to get caught again without a real alternative if Fleury has a temporary playoff meltdown.
The nastiest fight of the postseason was Fleury vs. the puck in some of the games against the Flyers. But sending in Johnson wasn't going to make things appreciably better.
By signing Vokoun, Shero has taken a step toward assuring the team won't be undermined in the playoffs by its goaltending.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.