Four runs is this team's magic marker; the Pirates are 62-12 when scoring at least four runs. They were averaging under four runs in their no-walk phase, have been over it since.
"We set the bar so low, we figured it would find its way up. I knew our guys would get better," said manager Clint Hurdle. "There's gotta be a point in time when a walk comes into your mind during your at-bat. And that did not happen early."
As the walks came, so did the hits. The Bucs' team average spiked from .223 in those first 21 games to .267 since -- reflective of hitting coach Jeff Branson's gospel.
"I'm always telling these guys, 'We're not looking for walks, but it has to be in the back of our minds.' We'll take the walk if they want to give it to us," Branson said, "but we'll always be aggressive, ready to swing from the first pitch. One pitch, one spot -- if it's in there, we're ready to go."
In the early going, when his players would be chasing pitches and essentially getting themselves out, Hurdle would welcome them back to the bench with a verbal jab.
"Hey, you played a game with him," Hurdle would say.
"With who?" the hitters would ask, falling into the trap.
"The pitcher. He said he's gonna walk you. And you said, 'No you're not.'"
"Then we've got situations when you say, 'That was a quality at-bat. He saw nine pitches.' Yeah," Hurdle said, "but he should have walked in five. We were in that mode a lot early. And that had a lot to do with some of the unfortunate starts [to the season] we had. Then some guys began doing it right, and that contagious thing we're always talking about set in."
The "virus" in this could have been Francisco Cervelli and Gregory Polanco, two of the greener players in the lineup. Polanco is in his first full big league season and while Cervelli has been around the Majors longer, various injuries had seriously limited his previous playing time. They have proven to be the most discriminate batters, with better walk rates than anyone other than Andrew McCutchen, who regularly gets pitched around.
"When you look over [Cervelli's] career, he has played only sporadically," Branson said. "To be able to do what he has done as a new everyday guy … he's commanding the strike zone very well."