“News flash: Pittsburgh is pretty good.” David Freese, third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, made the concession to his division opponent after a 5-1 loss. As of August 21, The Pirates held a two game lead over the Cards in the National League Central Division.
The Pirates had been all but menacing. A better moniker for the team might be the ‘Innocents,’ the title the franchise assumed during the 1890 season.
The 2012 season marked two decades of perennial losing records for the Pirates. The 20 year hiatus from winning is the longest such streak in all of any major professional American league ever-a stat Bucs fans can’t be proud of.
Right now, however, Pirates fans can boast. Exciting position players, a virile pitching staff, and an undaunted manager have them stunning the baseball world. The Bucs bear a 74-51 record, the second best in the majors.
There are 15 members currently on their roster that were originally selected in the first round of the draft. Andrew McCutchen, center fielder and 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft, has emerged as a star, winning a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger Award, and the National League title of Most Outstanding Player in 2012.
On the mound, Fransisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, and AJ Burnett have combined for 29 wins and ERAs of 2.53, 2.90, and 3.09, respectively. This trio has been a solid core of starting pitchers, but if you hear talk about the Bucs’ pitching, look to the Shark Tank.
Finding the name ‘bullpen’ to be unsuitable, the Pirates relief corps adopted a new metaphor, and have masticated their competition since. They carry a 2.82 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP, while swallowing over 430 innings. Mark Melancon, typically the penultimate hurler, has a miniscule 0.82 WHIP while accumulating his 26 holds. Closer Jason Grilli, who has saved 30 games in 31 opportunities, has 66 strike outs while chomping his 42 innings of work.
Altogether, the Bucs’ pitching staff has combined for a dominant ERA of 3.17, the strongest in baseball. Don’t wait for shark week; watch the Pirates throw. They draw blood with ferocious biting fastballs and sharp cutters on a nightly basis.
After a dismal 2010 season, Clint Hurdle was brought in to manage the Pirates. Hurdle has experience managing teams with dismal losing reputations. He carried the Colorado Rockies through 8 seasons, most of them unimpressive.
One of those, however, should inspire hope for the surging Pirates. In 2007, Hurdle brought the Rockies and their Denver fan base on a thrilling 90 win ride that earned a wild card spot and concluded in a trip to the world series-the team’s only appearance.
“I’m just trying to enjoy (it), knowing that there is going to be a day when this city is rocking,” he said recently.
His optimism is strong, considering the season he brought Colorado to quake. Hurdle’s Rockies plummeted in the 2007 World Series, getting swept by the Boston Red Sox. Just like the 2012 Pirates, a poor ending left a bad aftertaste to an otherwise exhilarating season.
The Pirates have built quietly (almost silently) for years, and they now have the components necessary to compete for the first time in decades. In order to break their losing season record, they only need nine more wins.
This alone might be considered a success, but underdog story supporters and the city of Pittsburgh hope for more. If the team continues at the current rate, they will clinch their first NL Central division title. From there, any team can make a postseason run to the World Series.
Put your money on the Bucs. After all, David Freese said they are pretty good.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor