It wasn’t what they were hoping for, but it will have to do.
The Pittsburgh Pirates playoff dreams ended in the finals weeks of July. Their aspirations for finally getting over the .500 landmark were gone before the NFL played its first preseason game.
But, the idea that this team brought something to the table no Pirates team has in the near past – well, that’s still there.
"There were a lot of things that we did right and we did well this year compared to last year," outfielder Andrew McCutchen said on Pirates.com. "It’s definitely not where we want to be, but we are definitely heading in the right direction, and that’s a positive."
That about sums it up for the Pirates – who finished 72-90 – and brought Pittsburgh one of its most exciting seasons of baseball in recent memory. As the season ends, here is a little good news and a little bad news for all you Bucco fans:
While you watch the Steelers have what I’m predicting to be a mediocre season, you can take the time to reminisce about the Pirates. If you want to pull yourself out of the NFL slump, I’d start with remembering that the 72 wins they got this year were the most for the club since 2004.
In fact, the team won 15 more games than it did last season – an improvement any true fan can appreciate.
That 15 game swing brought them to fourth in the NL Central, a mark they haven’t hit since 2003.
The pitching, despite its downgrade in recent months, started out exceeding all expectations. Remember that this team had a lead in the NL Central halfway through the year. It seems a distant memory, but they were a legitimate playoff contender.
Now, with it all in the books, the Pirates staff will go down as having the 11th best ERA in baseball (4.04). Not too shabby for a team that let up a full run more a game last year (5.0).
The team also boasted three all-stars this year – Andrew McCutchen, Kevin Correia and Joel Hanrahan – that earned the team some national respect for doing what they do. These three guys will be bright spots in this franchise for a long time, mark my words.
First, try to forget everything I just mentioned. That stuff will just drive you crazy.
But truly, there are some things that you’re not going to want to have on your mind. For instance, the Bucs offense didn’t do much this year. As far as high-powered hitting teams go, this is not the kind of squad you want to sit down to watch.
Compared to last season, the Bucs only improved their batting average by .002. They finished the year at .244, up from .242 last season. Even worse, last year, they actually hit 19 more home runs. Offensive production is never something the fans want to see go down one year to the next.
Last night, the Bucs 7-3 loss to the Brewers marked the 79th time the team was held to 15 runs or fewer. Of those 79 games, they only won 15.
That, to me, is the thing I’m going to try and forget most. When a team can’t score more than three runs, it’s bad enough. But when they do it in half the games they play – well, that’s just no fun. It speaks to the pitching of the team this year that they did what they did with the lousy offensive production they had all season, but that isn’t a pace any team can sustain – evident by the late season drop off.
Also try and forget the days when the Bucs say at 47-43, hungry for a division title and on their way up. I could mention the time when the Bucs actually had the division lead, but those days weren’t as exciting.
You see, when they were making their run to the top, their inevitable downfall wasn’t so inevitable. At the All-Star break, this was a team honing the home page of ESPN.com, being featured on “Outside the Lines” and talked about as the comeback story of the year.
Those days, those mid-summer rallies at PNC Park, they were the most exciting brand of baseball the Pirates have had in years. While the rest of the league boasted the same old winning roster it has year in and year out, the Pirates were getting it done with near no-names and true Buccos – guys who had worked their way through the system to get where they were.
Now, with all that gone, it’s time to start thinking about next season.
It’s time to start dreaming about Jason Jaramillo being a primetime player, about Andrew McCutchen leading the league in hits and stolen bases, about Joel Hanrahan smashing save records, about Kevin Correia being the ace we all know he can be.
And, of course, it’s time to start dreaming about a return to the playoffs. This group – if any of the last 20 years – will have the best shot to do it.