With 34 games left to go this season, the Pirates are sitting eight games under .500, 16.5 games back from the NL Central lead and nowhere near their first playoff berth in over 20 years.
While it’s tough to see it now, the Bucs still have a season to salvage. Although their playoff hopes are all but completely crushed, it’s possible the team could still finish over .500 for the first time in two decades.
As the final five weeks of the season roll in, let’s break down a Pirates acronym to go over the season that has been and what could be coming.
Pennsylvania; as in the battle of Pennsylvania baseball. While the Bucs finished 2-4 against the Philadelphia Phillies this season, the Phils broke it open over the last month and are now 23.5 games ahead of the Bucs with an 83-44 record, top in the Majors. All is not bad for Pittsburgh in the cross town rivalry – fans can find solace in the Steelers’ dominant preseason win over the Eagles last week. And there is always the Pennsylvania Little League team to pull for.
Injuries; with a few weeks to go, the Bucs healthy run seemed to inevitably run out. Names like Kevin Correia, Chase d’Arnaud, Kevin Hart, Derek Lee and Paul Maholm can all be found on the disabled list. It’s hard to imagine the Bucs finding success without these names on the diamond, mostly because they haven’t. Pittsburgh is 6-16 in the month of August and fading quickly.
Reputation; less than two months ago, the Pirates could be found on the home page of ESPN.com, the cover of the Post-Gazette and in a feature on the ESPN program Outside the Lines. It’s not easy for a team to bury a 20-year-long reputation of repeated failure, but this edition of the Pirates has done their best. Finding themselves at the top the division after the All-Star break showed teams that they weren’t the same old franchise that was out of the race by May. But, now, the Bucs need to salvage a .500 season if they want anyone to remember their improbably early season run.
Andrew McCutchen; in this third season in the Majors, the face of the Pirates became a household name when he made his first ever All-Star game and carried the Pirates from oblivion into the spotlight. Batting .271, the centerfielder has stolen 20 bases and 74 RBIs to go with 18 home runs. Cutch has been clutch, too, pulling through in the moments the Pirates have needed him most. Not even 25 years old, look for this guy to be doing big things for a long time.
Timing; this is something they just didn’t have this season. While certain individuals like McCutchen may have stuck out in the clutch, the Pirates peaked too early and never got it done on a consistent basis to push them over the top. Any major league baseball manager will tell you it’s all about when you get rolling. Who can forget the Mets’ epic collapse in September a few years back after leading the NL East for the entire summer?
Excitement; in this category, the Bucs scored a C+. While the team may not be playing for much over the next few weeks, their winning ways early on woke up a sleeping beast that is the baseball fan base of Pittsburgh. Nobody can talk down the kind of energy that PNC Park had this year, especially when the Bucs were taking home-series from the top names in the game throughout June and July. As someone who has experienced both the misery of Pirates baseball and the World Series run of a team like the Phillies, I can honestly say that the Pirates created some of the most exciting baseball finishes I have ever seen in person this season. Even in defeat at the hands of Jerry Meals, the team knocked over franchise records for length of a game and innings played.
Stadium; this year, the Pirates definitely made some improvements from their last few seasons. What’s special is that Pittsburgh seemed to notice. The club is averaging 25,225 fans at each home game, totaling over 1,660,000 fans at the stadium so far this year. With five weeks to go, that total has already surpassed last year’s. Their average is up from 19,918 in the 2010 season. The 25,225 ranks 19th in the majors, up six spots from where the Bucs 2010 campaign.