This Curve team is like the kid who's failing in class all semester, then crams for a midterm exam and aces it in a last-gasp effort to improve his grade.
Had this midseason report card come out two weeks ago, the Curve would have received an overall grade of F. But a stunning, out-of-the-blue eight-game winning streak that ended Friday at least gave the club a passing grade for the first half of the season.
The Curve return home tonight with a 33-40 record, second worst in the Eastern League, and even that's deceivingly good because of the isolated winning streak. The club followed up the outstanding streak with a dismal weekend as it was swept at Bowie, including back-to-back brutal losses in which it blew an 8-0 lead Saturday and got one hit in Sunday's 1-0 defeat.
The Curve have the worst offense in the EL and a pitching staff that has been wildly erratic, going from very good to awful and then back and forth. The offense is at or near the bottom of the EL in every major category, and the pitching staff had rebounded lately before Saturday's disaster.
The minor leagues aren't about wins and losses, but even if you put those aside, there's really nothing other than the big winning streak that the team can hang its hat on collectively. The club doesn't do anything particularly well besides play defense and is below average in essentially every other department.
If a C grade is average, the best grade this team deserves is D+.
Here are the biggest positives from the season so far:
* Best player: Easy - outfielder Andrew Lambo was having one of the best power seasons in Curve history when he was promoted to Triple-A. Lambo led the EL with 14 homers and was second with 46 RBIs in only 58 games. He actually was on pace to break Adam Hyzdu's single-season club records of 31 homers and 106 RBIs.
* Best pitcher: Jameson Taillon. He hasn't been dominant, as some might have hoped from a former No. 2 overall pick, but he has been very good with a 2.93 ERA in 14 starts. He's only 3-5, but the rest of his numbers are good (1.37 WHIP, 80 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings, .247 opponents' batting average).
* Biggest surprise: Jarek Cunningham has 14 homers in only 67 games, putting him on pace for 30. Incredibly, despite all the homers, he has only 26 RBIs.
* Most improvement: Alex Dickerson got off to a rough start - he was hitting .191 on May 17 - but seems to have figured things out and is starting to look like the hitter the Pirates were hoping to see.
* Keep an eye on: Casey Sadler doesn't get much recognition pitching in the same rotation as Taillon, but he's been very good with a 7-4 record and 3.06 ERA. His 1.17 WHIP is outstanding.
* Unsung hero: Mel Rojas Jr. (.262, .723 OPS) has been a solid player in his first year at Double-A.
* Getting defensive: The Curve's 61 errors are second fewest in the EL, just one more than Binghamton.
* Positive approach: Manager Carlos Garcia has done a nice job of keeping the players upbeat, positive and loose on a daily basis despite the struggles. That's one way a team that looks dead can suddenly go on a big winning streak.
* Have to feel good for: Reliever Tim Alderson, who finally got out of Double-A after six seasons.
And here are the negatives so far:
* Biggest issue: There are too many one-dimensional players on this team. There are some good hitters who struggle defensively (3B Adalberto Santos, C Charlie Cutler), and good defenders who provide little offense (C Carlos Paulino, SS Gift Ngoepe). It's hard for any team to win when that's the case, and it's almost impossible for those kind of players to make it to the major leagues if they can't perform well in both regards.
* Glaring weakness: Just not enough offense. A .239 team batting average and .315 on-base percentage won't cut it. There aren't enough baserunners, and when guys do get on, the team is not good in the clutch.
* Biggest disappointment: Ngoepe, a slick fielder, is hitting .181 and has struck out 80 times in 210 at-bats (38 percent).
The best thing about the first half is that the eight-game winning streak has kept the club within striking distance in the weak Eastern Division. The Curve are only six games out of first place and just five out of a playoff spot.
Looking ahead, the recent additions of electrifying outfielder Gregory Polanco and promising pitcher Nick Kingham provide some good prospects to watch, and Taillon should be around until at least August. The young hitters such as Dickerson and Rojas should only get better with more time in the league, too.
My preseason record prediction was 69-73, and that's still on the table thanks to the eight-game winning streak. Then again, if the offense doesn't improve and become more consistent, somewhere around 65-77 will be more likely.