PITTSBURGH - It's the question everyone is asking:
Can the Pittsburgh Pirates sustain their first-half success?
And here is the definitive answer: Maybe.
The Pirates were 51-30 in the first half, which is the best record in the major leagues. It is also a .630 winning percentage.
To put that in perspective, the Pirates haven't had a winning percentage that good since the 1908 team finished at .636. The last three World Series-winning teams were all below that level: 1979 (.605), 1971 (.599) and 1960 (.617).
So it is highly likely there will be a decline in the second half of the season.
That doesn't mean the Pirates can't be successful. It just means the numbers say they're unlikely to keep winning at the current pace.
The good news for the Pirates is there's still plenty of room for offensive improvement. Even Andrew McCutchen has been off the pace he set last year when he was a Most Valuable Player candidate.
There is reason to expect more from Neal Walker and Garrett Jones, too.
The bad news is it doesn't seem realistic to expect the pitching staff to be as effective as it has been.
Wandy Rodriguez, the team's No. 2 starter, is out for at least three more weeks to rest a troublesome forearm. Jeff Locke has been outstanding, but opponents are also going to get their second and third looks at him. Will he remain as effective?
The Pirates have gone 11 deep in starting pitchers and, remarkably, only one (Jonathan Sanchez) has failed.
The bullpen is just as significant an issue. Innings are piling up, and fatigue becomes a problem in the final months. Closer Jason Grilli is 36. Will he pitch as well as he did in the first half? Even the Pirates admit there's no blueprint for a first-time closer who's that age.
Here's what it looks like in the cloudy crystal bowl: Expect the offense to pick up a bit, expect the pitching to fall off a bit.
When it's all said and done, the streak of losing seasons will end at 20 and the team will remain in playoff contention.
In other words? Maybe.
Let's make a deal?
If the Pirates make any deals for the stretch run, it is highly unlikely they will part with top prospects.
If someone wants second-tier prospects, they can probably get them for the right deal.
But it would take an overwhelming offer to get someone like Jameson Taillon, for example. The Pirates project him as an important part of their rotation for at least six years. They're not going to deal him for temporary help in 2013, then look back with regret.
Teams in the Pirates' circumstances will not - and should not - make deals purely for the moment. The current needs always have to be balanced against the future implications.
That frustrates some fans, but it's reality.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org