Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole walked slowly into the near-empty clubhouse late Monday evening at AT&T Park, but instead of answering questions about trade rumors, he was talking about playoffs.

Kanas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, who was supposed to be wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform by now, was being informed that he and the rest of his potential free-agent teammates aren’t going anywhere, after all

There are just a few precious shopping days remaining before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but life is so topsy-turvy that the Pirates and Royals - ready to sell off spare parts just weeks ago - suddenly are acting like they can win this thing.

“We kept hearing everybody being mentioned in trades,’’ Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who was nearly shipped out and now is back in center field, told USA TODAY Sports. “But then it was like, “Hey, the only way to make sure none of that happens is that we’ve got to win ballgames.

“And that’s what we’ve done.”

The Pirates, playing all season without third baseman Jung Ho Kang (stranded in South Korea with legal problems from a DUI), and 80 games without outfielder Starling Marte (busted for performance-enhancing drug use), suddenly are playing their best ball of the year. They started 26-35 but have won 13 of their last 17 games and climbed back to .500 after beating the San Francisco Giants, 10-3, Monday night. All of that talk about trading Cole, All-Star infielder Josh Harrison, or McCutchen, has vanished.

“We know it’s a business, and if you don’t play good baseball, anything can happen,’’ Pirates valuable setup man Juan Nicasio said. “But we’re playing good. And if you play good, they can’t trade anyone. We keep playing like this, we can win this division.’’