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Red-hot Pirates

CHICAGO — The greatest affirmation that you can receive, Pedro Alvarez said on Saturday, is in what you hear from your peers, and as a first baseman, Alvarez is well positioned to get feedback about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Opposing baserunners offer some thoughts on their way around the bases, and so do first-base coaches.

"You hear it a lot: 'I like the way you guys play,'" Alvarez said Saturday. Hours later, the Pirates won with the relentlessness that is so greatly admired by evaluators and players from other teams. On a day when the wind at Wrigley Field gusted in from right field and knocked down anything hit in the air, the Pirates played the first few innings against the Cubs to a stalemate before piecing together some hits and a few runs and shutting down their division rivals.

The Pirates don't have the most powerful lineup in baseball. They probably don't have the most overwhelming pitching. And they don't field the best set of defenders.

But they have developed a habit of playing each pitch of each game with what might be the greatest focus and the most efficiency of any team, which is why they're so deeply respected by those they play. The Pirates have 95 wins this season, second to only the Cardinals, but they are viewed by some executives as the best team in baseball right now. "They keep coming at you," one highly ranked NL official said this week. "They're like the guy in 'Halloween.'"

Michael Myers, the ghoul in the hockey mask.

The official punctuated his thought: "Because they just won't go away."

Nope. Keep throwing stuff at them, keep trying to shut a door on them, and they just keep coming. In the span of five days, from Sept. 15-19, they faced a parade of the most elite pitchers in baseball, a gauntlet of Cy Young Award contenders:Jon LesterJake ArrietaZack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

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