The first team to five wins this season wasn't the defending champion Texas Rangers. It wasn't Shohei Ohtani's Los Angeles Dodgers, Aaron Judge's New York Yankees, or Ronald Acuna Jr.'s Atlanta Braves. It wasn't even the uber-talented Baltimore Orioles. Nope, just as we all expected, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the first team in MLB to get halfway to double digits.

Of course, we're still dealing with minuscule sample sizes at this point in the season, but by the same token, every win in April counts exactly as much toward a team's final place in the standings as those in August and September. What's more, four of those five Pirates wins came on the road against the Miami Marlins, who had a dismal offseason but are still technically defending their postseason berth.

So rather than chalk it all up to good fortune, let's break down all the reasons to be legitimately excited about these Pirates and their hot start. Frankly, it's a list that's longer than you might think.

Breakout candidates galore

Though only Mitch Keller and David Bednar represented the Pirates in Seattle at last season's All-Star Game, there are several other potential All-Stars on this roster. Bryan Reynolds, who made the Midsummer Classic in his stellar 2021 campaign, is picking up where he left off at the end of '23 by extending his on-base streak to 33 games, the second-longest active streak in the majors behind Juan Soto's 37.

Ke'Bryan Hayes, who finally took home a long-deserved Gold Glove a season ago, is off to a hot start at the plate as well. Oneil Cruz is a talent supernova who could become a top-10 player in the league at a moment's notice. Jack Suwinski cracked our top 10 center fielders list thanks to a surprisingly competitive all-around profile. And showing them all the way is 37-year-old Andrew McCutchen, who chipped in a pair of hits in Washington Monday afternoon.

From a pitching standpoint, Keller is looking to keep up his production for a full season after fading in the first half a year ago. The star in waiting, meanwhile, is Jared Jones, baseball's No. 62 overall prospect and the owner of a fastball with the potential to break Baseball Savant. Jones totaled 22 swings and misses in his MLB debut Saturday, the most of any debuting pitcher in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008).

Pitching is still the problem

The rest of the Pirates' rotation beyond Keller and Jones doesn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence, though the first trip around the carousel resulted in a perfect record. After some jostling about in camp, the Buccos landed on Martin Pérez, Bailey Falter and Marco Gonzales as their remaining starters, with Luis L. Ortiz kicked to the pen and Domingo German ramping up after signing late in Spring Training.

Pérez has an All-Star appearance under his belt for the 2022 Rangers, but took a big step back last season, seeing only mop-up duty in the playoffs. Falter is a fringe arm still trying to prove he's a big leaguer, while Gonzales is out to prove he can still get batters out after a disastrous 2023. It's not a group that inspires a ton of confidence

Last season, the pitching was the Pirates' Achilles Heel, as the team ranked 22nd in team ERA and allowed the fifth-most walks in baseball. It's not a group of marquee names, but that's also by design for the Pirates and their current franchise trajectory. And that's because…

More help is on the way

Mar 1, 2024; Bradenton, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Bryan Reynolds (10) is congratulated by right fielder Connor Joe (2) after he hit a home run during the first inning at LECOM Park.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

We may only be scratching the surface of Pittsburgh's final form. The Pirates have had nothing but high draft picks in the past half-decade and even with the talent that's graduated to the big leagues, there's still plenty of talent left in the minors.

MLBPipeline currently ranks the Pirates' farm system ninth of the 30 teams, headlined by 2023 No. 1 overall pick Paul Skenes, who was touted as the best pitching prospect since at least Stephen Strasburg. Pittsburgh has five prospects in the site's Top 100, four of them pitchers. So not only is the farm deep, but its high end talent perfectly matches the current need of the big league club.

No matter how you slice it, this team is on an upward trajectory. They're following an Orioles-lite blueprint by stockpiling big-time prospects and pretty soon, the full picture will start to come together.

Been there, sorta done that?

The Pirates are certainly no strangers to coming out of the gates on fire. They were 20-8 on April 29, 2023, the second-best record in the majors at the time. Of course, they cratered from there, played 22 games under .500 the rest of the way and ended up in fourth place in the NL Central. But that doesn't mean last April didn't provide valuable experience.

After plummeting to 55-69, the Pirates quietly went on a 14-10 spurt to end the season and lay the groundwork for this hot start. Jared Triolo came up and had a terrific September. The Henry Davis right field experiment got a large enough sample size to be rightfully recognized as a disaster. Reynolds and Hayes took big steps forward in their trajectories as veteran leaders. And local hero David Bednar, one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball, went on a hot stretch to tie the NL saves lead with 38.

Now, having laid a solid foundation, the Pirates can start to put the puzzle pieces together. They got Cruz back, they can set a lineup they're excited about every day and they know there's still much more talent yet to join the roster. After a decade of disappointment, things are finally starting to look up in the Steel City.